While the deadly coronavirus pandemic and subsequent quarantine have been hard on everyone, few have been impacted like the front line workers, including nurses, doctors and EMTs.
Holden native and 1980 HHS graduate Kathy (Wright) Delatte is a registered nurse and works at Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It is a specialty hospital focused on the care of women and infants.
Kathy is the daughter of Connie Wright of Holden and the late Kester Wright. She has worked in several areas of nursing since graduating from nursing school, but she has been primarily in cardiac care, adult ICU, operating room, and Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU).
Prior to her nursing career, Kathy was in the military, which is where she met her husband Joe.
Kathy was working at TopGun, then located at Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego, when they met.
Joe is from Louisiana and after they both left the military, they decided that is where they would settle down and raise a family. The couple settled there in 1987.
After Kathy had her daughter Nicole in 1994, she decided to pursue a career in nursing.
“I have been a bedside nurse all of my career except for one year when I tried corporate life, but caring for patients was where I felt most at home, and thus I returned to clinical nursing,” said Kathy.
Some of Joe and Kathy’s family have also entered the military, and their daughter is now following in her mother’s footsteps and is pursing a nursing career.
In her own words, Kathy shares COVID-19 stories of heartache, loss and even some celebrated victories. In dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, Kathy says most nurses were not prepared for the amount of death and the number of critically ill patients they are seeing unless they had worked in a combat zone.
Facing COVID-positive patients each day for a grueling 12-hour shift, Kathy has first-hand knowledge of the toll it is taking on front line workers.
“The pandemic has created much uncharted territory for all of us caring for these patients,” explained Kathy.
“Our facility, being a specialty hospital, was set up in anticipation of caring for pregnant patients who develop COVID symptoms, either before or immediately after childbirth. “Our adult ICU, where I work, is the COVID unit for our hospital.
We had to convert a few additional rooms to ‘negative pressure’ rooms, which are normally only used for patients with suspected airborne viruses like tuberculosis.”
She went on to talk about the contagious nature of the coronavirus and the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) the staff is required to wear each and every day.
“All of the staff going into the unit each day are required to change into hospital scrubs and wear isolation gowns, surgical masks, shoe covers and hair covering all day,” she said. “We are not allowed to leave the unit until the end of our shift and we then change back into our own clothes and go home.”
When asked if she self-quarantines when she gets home to protect her family, she said, “Once home in my garage, my clothes get left in the garage and I go straight to a shower and touch nothing in my house until I shower.
It’s been this same routine since mid-to late March.” She says her hospital has seen fewer cases of COVID than they anticipated, for which they are grateful.
“I believe most pregnant patients took the warnings very serious and engaged in social distancing from the start,” Kathy said.
“That, combined with the fact that most women of child-bearing age are typically very healthy otherwise. “We have had a few extremely critical patients however, and we did lose a patient after approximately two-and-a-half weeks in our unit who had her baby delivered at 30 weeks gestation by emergency c-section.
“This was a devastating loss to our entire staff as everyone had participated in her care at one time or another. Her baby has done well and should be discharged from the NICU soon.”
Kathy explained the majority of deaths from COVID have occurred in the larger medical centers.
New Orleans experienced extremely high patient admission numbers in late March and early April. “Some of my friends working in other hospitals have shared heartbreaking stories of individuals dying with only a brief Facetime visit with their loved ones,” she shared. “The funerals here with only immediate family present are truly heart-wrenching.”
Kathy shares that there have been cherished moments of victory amid the devastation.
“A recent success story was a patient just discharged from our hospital on April 20. Most of the hospital staff came out to give her a joyful sendoff as her family met her at the entrance,” Kathy explained.
“This was a victory everyone needed. She had been with us almost three weeks and was very critically ill the majority of that time.”
She went on to explain that neighboring larger facilities have been hit especially hard.
“Ochsner Hospital in New Orleans recently discharged their 1,500th patient, just to give a bit of perspective to the numbers in New Orleans,” Kathy said.
Numbers, as of the end of April in Louisiana, were 25,700 positive cases and 1,540 deaths. Nearly one-fourth of all deaths in Louisiana are said to be nursing home residents, according to Kathy.
The coronavirus is taking a terrible toll on every front line worker, and Kathy believes there will be long-term repercussions on all of the nurses and other front line workers.
“The emotional toll is certainly much worse than most nurses have ever experienced in their careers, unless they worked in a combat zone in the military,” she relates.
“I have no doubt there will be many cases of PTSD in the months to come. The worst part was that this virus was affecting patients much differently than typical patients requiring mechanical ventilation.
“So much of what was attempted in hopes of seeing improvement would actually yield the opposite effect. It has taken such an emotional toll on the physicians, as well as the nurses.
“While my hospital has not suffered near the losses that have been seen at the larger medical centers, it has been no less heartbreaking to tell families day after day that there has been little improvement and we are doing everything possible.”
At one time during the pandemic, there was a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), but Kathy reports her hospital has not had those problems as they have had plenty of needed equipment.
“I do know that early on there were grave concerns in the larger medical centers in Louisiana about PPE shortages, but I believe relief was obtained in that area,” Kathy explained.
“I do believe there have been cases of rationing of PPE taking place and from what I’ve heard, the real shortages of PPE have been seen in nursing homes and rehab hospitals.
“As far as I know, there has been no one in our area who needed a ventilator who could not get one.”
Kathy shares front line stories that will tear your heart out, stories of courage and selfless acts of those dealing with these critically ill patients.
“I did hear of the most heartbreaking story from a nurse here in Baton Rouge who shared that her most painful day was when an elderly female patient declined a ventilator and asked that it be used for a younger patient,” Kathy recalls.
“And the nurse stayed and prayed with the elderly woman until she passed away. “No family, no one but this precious nurse.
This is the part that is nothing like nurses have ever experienced. We are simply not accustomed to having to allow our patients to die alone.”
She went on to talk about this unprecedented deadly virus, the amount of death it’s leaving in its wake, and the impact it is having on her and her fellow nurses.
“Nurses in general are trained to prevent disease/infection transmission under a variety of conditions,” Kathy shared. “I truly don’t think anything in our careers would have prepared us for this crisis, however.
“The daily losses being experienced by nurses across Louisiana will no doubt result in some severe PTSD down the road, I imagine.” We have been hearing stories all over the country of people and communities honoring healthcare workers and trying to ease their constant burden by performing little acts of kindness.
Kathy shared, “Our community has been phenomenal in its support of healthcare workers. My church, Holy Rosary Catholic Church in St. Amant, LA, has a ministry called Full of Grace Cafe, which provides a variety of services to the community.
“Full of Grace Cafe has enlisted a group of ladies who have sewn thousands of masks for healthcare workers who aren’t necessarily on the ‘front lines’ but still wanted to wear masks at work in clinic settings.
“The area restaurants have provided too many meals to count to all of the area hospitals.
Other churches have provided little inspirational gift packs. “One of the local refineries offered free gas cards to front line healthcare workers at the three big hospitals here in Baton Rouge. Many area corporations have donated a multitude of PPE items.”
Kathy went on to share some personal reflections about the environment she is working in now that the coronavirus has hit our nation so hard.
“I have worked at Woman’s Hospital for more than 17 years, and in all that time we never had patients as sick as the ones we’ve seen these past few weeks.
“As a result, I had lacked some of the necessary critical skills to care for patients who were as sick as ours were becoming. We even had a patient on continuous dialysis (something we had never done at my hospital).”
Kathy is quick to offer thanks to other healthcare workers who have come to Woman’s Hospital to help out during this horrific time in our nation’s history.
The death toll is staggering, with the coronavirus having already killed more people than were lost in the Vietnam War.
“I just want to give the highest praise to the members of our ICU team who have come to Woman’s Hospital from other facilities.
They brought with them critical care backgrounds with very unique and high level skill sets,” said Kathy.
“They have been invaluable during this crisis. I will forever thank God for sending these women to our little ICU to get us through this experience.”
The Image is grateful to Kathy for sharing her story, her experiences, and her bittersweet memories of this horrific occurrence, the deadliest pandemic in modern history.
Her hometown and her family are proud of her heroic efforts in the face of this unprecedented healthcare crisis.
We are all are grateful for her and so many like her, who selflessly give of themselves each day, offering quality care and comfort to patients and their families.
Kathy is a true hero, and there are many others like her who quietly go to work every day and offer a service of true caring and love.
Kathy reflects on how she and other nurses cope with the astronomical amount of illness and death and yet manage to keep going.
In a simple statement, she sums up the objective of each and every healthcare worker facing this invisible enemy.
“It has an effect, no doubt,” Kathy said. “But when it’s all said and done, if we make even a small difference for someone during a very scary time in their life, it was a good day.”