The first patient Kelliann Donaghy took care of who died from COVID-19 was a middle-aged man with underlying medical conditions. His parents lived in Florida, and as they were getting on the plane to see their son at Jefferson Torresdale Hospital, Donaghy knew he was dying.
The father asked for pictures of the son, which Donaghy sent. Several hours later, she received a response thanking her for the pictures. Their son had passed away during that time.
“Those were the last pictures they were able to see of their son,” Donaghy said.
Donaghy has been a nurse for 28 years, 21 of which she’s been at Jefferson Torresdale. The Torresdale resident lives less than a 10-minute drive away from her workplace. In her career, she’s never seen anything like the COVID-19 pandemic, but her experience taught her that being a nurse doesn’t only consist of medically treating a patient.
“It’s about making it as easy as can be for the patient and the family,” she said.
During the pandemic, families are not allowed to visit loved ones, especially in the ICU where Donaghy works. She works to help patients stay in contact with their families over video chat, and helps create “remembrance boxes” with a patient’s heartbeat script and fingerprints in the shapes of hearts to give to families.
“The heartbeat script says you will forever be in my heart,” she said. “Even if the families can’t be with them, we give them that care package and we tell them, we will be with them.”
The patient may not look to be in the best physical condition, but Donaghy sets up video calls with their families or religious leaders to keep them comfortable and connected to the outside world. She’ll try to keep them comfortable by playing their favorite music or just being in the room with them.
“Kelliann is the last human touch for some patients and spends time with them as they pass,” said Carolyn McGonagle, MSN RN CCRN.
From May 4-10, Jefferson Torresdale admitted 78 inpatients with COVID-19, the fifth-highest number from hospitals in the Philadelphia area. It also had 22 patients using a respirator to breathe.
The support from hospital staff and the community has been outstanding, Donaghy said. The community has provided the hospital with hats, surgical caps and masks as well as donating plenty of food. The staff has a joke that they’ll be 40 pounds heavier from all the food once the pandemic is over – not that any of them are complaining.
It’s also important that the staff takes time to celebrate those who recover. When patients are released, the staff will applaud them and take a minute to soak in the moment. Donaghy recalled a patient who lived nearby the hospital getting released, and the nurses put on a car parade around his house congratulating him. He sent the staff pictures when he was back home thanking them.
“Taking care of patients, no matter the outcome, is worth it,” Donaghy said.
“There’s no other career I would want – even in these unprecedented times.”
Donaghy has three kids – a 22-year-old son who works as an orderly at the hospital with her, a 20-year-old daughter who is a college student and an 11-year-old daughter who is going to “make the world beautiful” with her arts and crafts, Donaghy said. Her husband is a police officer.
Whenever any of them gets home, they go straight upstairs to take a shower and throw their uniform in the laundry. After that’s done, they can spend time together watching TV and making jokes to cheer each other up.
“Whether you feel it’s a real disease or not, I’ve seen the worst effects of it,” Donaghy said. “Just stay safe.” ••