How to help COVID-19 patients smile

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Health workers are still on the front line of the battle against COVID-19. One nurse has found a new prescription to help patients fighting the virus in Huntsville Hospital.

The Cardiac Care Unit at Huntsville hospital was one of the first to transform into a COVID-19 ICU. The first patients arrived in March. The hospital saw a spike in patients in June and July.

Sarah Calvelage has been on the front line from the start. “This is a difficult situation and so I would say that we’re holding up well,” she told me, “The morale among my coworkers is very high because ultimately, we have each other and we’re going to get through it.”

There are hugs and there are tears. She laughed and said, “Yes, socially distanced hugs.” A lot of nurses are working overtime to help when others are out sick or taking a well-deserved vacation.

The battle has been tough. “But at the same time, I think that I have seen my coworkers and I come together and form a family almost in our unit,” Sarah said, “So, I’m really just proud of my coworkers and the way that we’ve handled it.”

She has a lot of admiration for how people she has trained and worked with a long time are handling the hardships they’ve faced. “That aspect of it has been good but then on the other hand, we have patients that are very sick, and we are dealing with a disease process that we’re learning more about every single day, so that has been difficult,” Sarah added.

What’s even more difficult is seeing Covid-19 patients improve physically but watching their mental health take a turn. “The loneliness is hard to deal with for us as nurses sometimes,” she said.

One of her patients had been in the hospital for more than a month. Sarah recalls, “He mentioned to me one night when I was in his room that we were nice girls taking care of him, but he said he hadn’t seen a smile from another human in over a month.”

She knew she had to do something. “And it kind of hit me that even though we’re going into his room and talking to him, we have masks on. We have face shields. We have gowns,” she said, “And a lot of times even though they might have some human interaction, our patients get lonely back here.”

Sarah posted on facebook asking family and friends to send cards, well wishes, anything they could put on those cold, white walls of the ICU. “We’ve been able to brighten up their rooms of all of our patients back here and it really has seemed to improve their mood and lift their spirits quite a bit,” she said with a smile.

Her three children even got involved. “I had them draw some pictures of flowers and butterflies and things to hang on patient walls,” she told me. The patients loved it! “They were just surprised that somebody cared to do that,” she said.

You don’t have to be a nurse or a health care worker to be on the front line of the fight against COVID-19. “One way that you can to that is to let somebody who is sick know that hey, I didn’t forget about you,” Sarah said, “I’m thinking about you and you’re in my thoughts and prayers.” That’s good medicine for these patients right now. Sarah agreed.

If you’d like to send a card, picture or drawing to someone in the Covid unit at Huntsville Hospital, here’s the address.

CCU2 Sarah Calvelage
101 Sivley Road
Huntsville, AL 35801

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