Pfeiffer graduate works in ICU at Wake Forest

By Richard Craver, Winston-Salem Journal

Working in a hospital intensive care unit requires medical providers to separate, if not detach, their personal emotions for the services at hand.

Over the past nine months, COVID-19 has made that task intensely hard, if not impossible at times, for Lauren Robbins, a medical ICU clinical educator and her 120 co-workers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

“The overall physical and emotional toll on me and my staff has been heavy,” Robbins said. “We’ve seen many COVID-positive patients die with very few surviving critical illness.

“While it’s not uncommon for patients to pass away in the ICU, we’ve seen COVID-19 take the lives of both the elderly and chronically ill, as well as the young and healthy.

“It’s been difficult to watch so many succumb to the virus when several days or weeks before coming to the hospital the patient was living a normal life.”

Robbins, a 2015 Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduate from Pfeiffer University, said the isolation required for COVID-19 patients is not just for treatment, but also because their family members may have the virus, too, or are recovering from it.

That means, Robbins said, it is not uncommon for the nurse to be the only person with the individual when they die.

“Many patients who come to the ICU are too sick to communicate their feelings regarding COVID,” Robbins said. “However, of those who come to the ICU and are coherent enough to interact with staff, many are scared. Some patients have called their families to tell them they think they’re going to die from the virus.

“The most difficult part of treatment is deciding when treatment is no longer effective and when the patient should be made comfortable,” Robbins said. “Many times, families struggle with making this decision because they cannot see the patient except through Zoom.”

The ICU staff’s resilience is often tested to the breaking point, Robbins said.

“We’ve had to learn as we go, roll with the punches, and pick ourselves up by the bootstraps more than we ever have before,” she said. “Unfortunately, nursing staff are not trained to deal with the emotional toll this pandemic has taken.

“I’ve seen my staff cry more in the past few months than I have in my entire career. Nursing is hard,” Robbins said. “But, nursing during a pandemic is a whole different ball game.”

Caring for COVID-19 patients requires a level of awareness and preciseness to keep the ICU staff from being infected themselves.

“With COVID, we must don a gown, gloves, N95 mask, goggles that seal to the face, a hair cover and shoe covers,” Robbins said.

“This must be meticulously put on each time we enter the patient’s room, whether it’s to administer medications or simply to hand the patient a cup of water.”

The COVID-19 treatment regimen changes constantly with new treatment procedures and new medical discoveries, whether developed at Wake Forest Baptist or other medical institutions.

Robbins said she is saddened that safety measures, such as wearing a mask and keeping social distance, have become so politicized that people are being unnecessarily exposed and sickened by COVID-19.

“It is important to remember that while masks are not 100 percent effective, they help slow the spread,” Robbins said. “Slowing the spread of the virus will help reduce the strain on our resources and help us better care for our patients.”

Robbins is hopeful that the Pfizer, Moderna and other COVID-19 vaccines will lower the level of community spread.

“I hear many people on social media and in the community express their hesitancy to take the vaccine,” she said. “Personally, I am willing to take the vaccine since the scientific community has deemed it safe.

“After nine months of battling this virus, we’re extremely tired and want so badly for our world to go back to normal.”

This article first appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal at