Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of profile stories spotlighting members of our community and how they are facing the coronavirus crisis.
Ashley Beasley wears three different suits now: as an emergency room nurse, as a mother and as a frontline defender against the coronavirus.
Beasley, like so many others at East Alabama Medical Center, is bracing for the full impact of the pandemic to hit Lee County.
She said she has never seen so many tubes hooked to so many patients struggling to breathe as she did two weekends ago.
She has sent her children off to live with their grandparents for fear of coming home from work and spreading the sickness to her children, but more importantly, spreading it to her own parents who play the role as baby sitter now.
But she has hope that with personnel’s training and their preparation, EAMC is ready to take this on.
“I mean we’re trained to do these sort of things and we know what to do and taking the precautions,” she said. “You just have to keep doing what you’re doing and just hope that you’re taking all the precautions that you’re supposed to take.”
The sheer sweeping numbers of the pandemic have plunged parts of the country around her into crisis.
In short, Beasley and her colleagues are facing something she has only ever heard about from afar in her 10 years at the hospital — the threat of not having enough supplies to help.
“You always read those news articles and social media and that sort of thing, and you always sort of wonder in the back of your head, you know, ‘Could this be us?’” she said.
She’s doing what she can to make sure it isn’t.
Beasley has seen a lot in the emergency room, but two weekends ago brought something new — an influx of sick patients coming into the emergency room all at once.
“We haven’t seen this abundance at one time,” she said. “This weekend I would say we probably intubated the most patients I’ve ever intubated in one day. Every time I turned around we were intubating because these people are so air hungry, their respiratory drives are just tired.”
The first case of coronavirus in Lee County was confirmed iMarch 15. The number of confirmed cases in the area has since soared to at least 75.
Beasley has had to treat several people who were both confirmed and suspected virus patients. These patients aren’t just virus patients to Beasley; they are very sick patients.
“It takes a lot of staff,” she said. “It takes a lot of nurses. It takes a lot of respiratory and doctors and takes a lot of teamwork to take care of these patients. It takes a lot of time.”
And seeing these patients has also taken its toll on her.
“It’s just hard seeing these patients so sick because when they do come back or when they do come in here, it’s just not the milder symptoms because they are so sick, respiratory wise,” she said. “I mean this virus is not good.”
Being a mom
When Beasley gets home she immediately takes off her work clothes, disinfects and begins her other job, mom.
Beasley and her husband are both nurses, and due to school being out, the couple made the difficult decision to have their children stay with their grandparents for the time being while also keeping her parents healthy.
“So that we’re actually not transporting them back and forth to my parents and exposing my parents to the virus, they’re actually at my parents for a few weeks,” Beasley said.
The change was not easy for her. It’s probably one of the more difficult decisions she’s had to make.
“It’s very hard,” Beasley said. “But I mean with technology, we’ll Facetime them every night, and then of course, they love their grandparents so that makes it a whole lot easier anyways. They’re in heaven over there.”
Before she decided to have her children stay at their grandparents’ home, she did what she feels every parent has to do right now with their children — explain what’s going on.
“I don’t know if it’s a health care worker thing or what, but we’re pretty real with them,” Beasley explained. “We tell them. We tell them what’s going on and you know we ask them if they have any questions.”
Even before her children went to stay with their grandparents, Beasley’s 7-year-old daughter knew something wasn’t right.
“My 7-year-old’s like ‘Why aren’t we going to Target this week, Mom,” she joked. “So she knows that something’s going on cause we haven’t left the house and we’re not going like we were and we’re not doing it like we were. So they know something’s up.”
Ready for what’s next
The future holds many unknowns for health care workers, but Beasley has seen the staff at EAMC come together and succeed.
“As a hospital we’ve just kind of come together, and we’ve just been rocking it out,” she said.
Running out of supplies, such as masks and tools, still isn’t a huge fear for Beasley because of the hospital’s planning and the help of the community.
“I think the hospital’s done a good job,” she said. “I mean we’ve had people making donations, and every time I’ve ever called about getting supplies, like this morning I called and they brought me supplies that I needed and I didn’t have any problems with that.”
Beasley also isn’t fearful of what might happen in Lee County when it comes to the virus because she feels EAMC is more than well prepared to handle whatever is thrown its way.
“They’re (hospital leadership) always thinking ahead and trying to come up with plans and those sorts of things,” Beasley said.
But until that day comes, Beasley and the rest of the staff at EAMC are ready to continue to serve the community any way it needs.
“We’re just taking it day by day I think as far as what needs to be done and schedules that need to be changed and things that need to be done,”she said. “Just doing whatever we need to do and whatever the hospital needs us to do and whatever the community needs.”