Not all superheroes wear capes: A frontline hero shares her story

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Nurse Jacqueline Barber sat down with Newspaper Media Group for a virtual interview on April 28 to share her experiences with the novel coronavirus pandemic. She is part of a team of 40 or so operating and recovery room staff - housekeepers, secretaries, unit assistants and nurses - who came together as one through the pandemic.PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE BARBER
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Nurse Jacqueline Barber sat down with Newspaper Media Group for a virtual interview on April 28 to share her experiences with the novel coronavirus pandemic. She is part of a team of 40 or so operating and recovery room staff - housekeepers, secretaries, unit assistants and nurses - who came together as one through the pandemic.PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE BARBER
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Nurse Jacqueline Barber sat down with Newspaper Media Group for a virtual interview on April 28 to share her experiences with the novel coronavirus pandemic. She is part of a team of 40 or so operating and recovery room staff - housekeepers, secretaries, unit assistants and nurses - who came together as one through the pandemic.PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE BARBER
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Nurse Jacqueline Barber sat down with Newspaper Media Group for a virtual interview on April 28 to share her experiences with the novel coronavirus pandemic. She is part of a team of 40 or so operating and recovery room staff - housekeepers, secretaries, unit assistants and nurses - who came together as one through the pandemic.PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE BARBER

OLD BRIDGE – Two weeks ago, Jacqueline Barber, a nurse at Hackensack Meridian Health Raritan Bay Medical Center in Old Bridge, looked out the window of the recovery wing and saw the lights and sirens of members of the police, fire and first aid departments.

About 90 emergency vehicles and 100 first responders greeted hospital doctors and nurses with applauds and encouragement as they entered and exited the building on April 16 as part of appreciation events at the Hackensack Meridian Health locations throughout the state.

“It was right around the time we needed it,” said Barber, who has been a nurse for 37 years, of the show of appreciation. She called the rally “fun and very meaningful.”

“We look at some of those pictures now and it really holds us together. … We’re all fighting this together, we are in the fight to win the fight,” she said, noting the challenging and stressful days in the beginning of the pandemic has brought a sense of calm and appreciation to where they are now.

Barber sat down with Newspaper Media Group for a virtual interview on April 28 to share her experiences with the novel coronavirus pandemic. She is part of a team of 40 or so operating and recovery room staff – housekeepers, secretaries, unit assistants and nurses – who came together as one through the pandemic.

“Each person is an integral part of the team,” she said.

It was two weeks ago the hospital saw its highest surges of patients coming in with COVID-19.

“We would hear emergencies called all over the building,” recalled Barber. “Those were tough times at the hospital. … it was pretty scary at some points not knowing how bad it was going to get.”

Barber said the hospital did something called pyramid nursing to make sure every patient who came in very ill was managed by a care team.

“We had some very, very positive outcomes from that,” she said.

The team was charged with opening up a COVID-19 free unit, or clean unit, to free up space for COVID-19 patients in the hospital. Barber said a lot of creative, collaborative, courageous and compassionate care went into transforming what was an ambulatory surgical care unit into an inpatient unit.

“We spent a day gathering as many supplies we thought we would need and came upstairs with beds and stretchers,” she said. “We made lists, pharmacy helped us, materials management helped us because they had to bring us linen. It took us two days to actually get it up. Of course we had growing pains in the very beginning of what we didn’t anticipate of what we would need, but I don’t think it took us more than three days to go full-steam where everyone knew what they were doing.”

The COVID-19-free unit has the capability of 25 hospital beds for patients. They opened the wing with 13 beds.

“With the clean unit, the hospital did not have to hold patients in the Emergency Room when there were not enough beds in the hospital,” Barber said.

The long-time nurse said she is proud of the teamwork and collaboration of the two different nursing groups – recovery and operation – working together. She said although recovery room nurses are critical certified care nurses, operating room nurses have specialties unique to the operating room.

“It required us to work as a team,” she said. “This was all new to everyone. We did not do this before. We are nurses of course, all basic nursing, but it’s so out of our element for what we’ve done before. You can’t imagine the pride from the first week we would say to them ‘Can you believe you’d be doing this a week later?’ because at first the concept was so outrageous.”

Before the pandemic, the nursing staff worked 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shifts each day and had an on call shift from 3 p.m. to the next day for an emergency. Now shifts are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

“So that meant some people were working nights, some people were working days and working as teams. … It took a lot of work to put all that together,” Barber said. “Everybody has been doing a great job.”

Barber said from the start her team has accepted the challenge.

“When they say superheroes don’t always wear capes they wear scrubs, we are perfect examples of wearing scrubs every day and meeting and exceeding the challenge,” she said. “You can’t imagine how it feels to come in and everybody’s doing their thing and everybody’s accepted their job. We have some patients that were very sick and they got better and we all cheer those accomplishments. Everybody is so proud.”

When a patient is discharged from the hospital after his or her COVID-19 battle, the hospital plays “Eye of the Tiger” and everyone applauds, Barber said.

A typical day for Barber starts at 6 a.m., checking out the schedule ahead making sure everyone is teamed up with someone. At 7 a.m., the day and night shifts have a team, safety huddle to talk about events that occurred, talk about safety issues and concerns team members may have and discuss their successes and failures.

“We then give ourselves a nice cheer and off the day we go,” she said.

At 8:30 a.m., an administrative safety huddle is held to share information discussed at the safety huddle and to get an idea of what is happening in the whole facility and organization.

“From there we go to a meeting with our case managers to discuss every patient, and discuss with team members what the best plan of care is, and how are we working with the families to increase communication with the patient,” she said.

Barber said it is very hard for family members not to be involved in any portion of care. She said they have gotten to know family members very well, some on a first name basis.

“We are that bridge … if patients can’t call their families because they don’t have their cell phone, we give phones to the patients,” she said. “Our social work team is great, they talk to families one-on-one. We have started using iPads for FaceTime for families to see their actual family members, which has been very nice.”

Barber said they have created a Wall of Pride in the department with people and organizations who have provided meals for their staff from the Girl and Boy Scouts to family members.

“It reminds us we are in this for everyone,” she said. “Our families send us out every day and that’s a lot for them as well. They have to hold the fort down while all of us are here.”

Barber said a brother of one of their patients, who had a real hard time with COVID-19, provided the team with pizza and cannolis on April 27.

“We worked really hard to make him better … it was a good feeling,” she said. “We have to remind each other of the positives, not the negatives, always the positives.”

Barber said as they move forward in efforts to further flatten the curve of COVID-19, she said it’s important for the public to respect social distancing, wash hands and stay at home.

“This was a big challenge. We don’t want to see surges we saw two weeks ago,” she said.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.