Life on the Front Lines

With summer on the horizon, Wisconsin and other parts of the country are taking steps to re-open businesses and return life to some semblance of normality. But for Kayla Uniewski ’17, a nurse on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, “normal” isn’t what it used to be. Nor is it predictable.

“Even when the state reopens, we will still be working with the COVID patients. Nothing will change for my team and I for a long time,” she says. “The unknown is the scary part.”

Uniewski earned her nursing degree from Alverno and is a registered nurse at Advocate Aurora St Luke’s Medical Center. She works in the medical respiratory intensive care unit (ICU), where her work includes assessing patients, distributing medications, and doing scans and bedside procedures as necessary.

When the coronavirus arrived in Wisconsin, her unit became the first at St. Luke’s to treat COVID patients.

“Since COVID, my work life has changed tremendously. In the beginning, we had to remove all other ICU patients from the unit to clear all of our beds for COVID patients,” she recalls. “We also have to wear more personal protective equipment every time we enter a patient’s room (N95 mask, gown, gloves, goggles, and a face shield.) We have had to learn to do all of our nursing care and group them so we are in the patient’s room for shorter periods to decrease exposure to ourselves.”

Caring for COVID-19 patients not only requires performing the technical skills of the nursing profession in a new way. It also requires additional emotional caregiving.

“We are now not only the patients’ caretakers, but we are also the only people these patients see during their stay. Visitors are not allowed during the pandemic, so patients and their families rely on us for updates and to be there for their sick family members at all times, even in death,” she says. “On top of all normal nursing cares, we also find time to update the family and set up video chats with patients and their families to help everyone get through this difficult time.”

Uniewski has successfully risen to meet these new challenges, crediting Alverno for helping her learn adaptability.

“In nursing, especially right now, things don’t always go as planned and you have to be strong enough to come up with a solution and adapt to the situation to come out on top,” she says.

Uniewski thanks her husband, family and friends with supporting her during a challenging time, and she is especially grateful for her health care colleagues.

“In this career, you won’t make it far without a team,” she says. “I am lucky and humbled to be a part of my ICU team, and they are the reason I can make it through this pandemic.”

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