By Melissa Ramirez Cooper
Director, AANA Public Relations and Communications
When Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, Tanya Smith, DNP, CRNA, SMP, said it took a long time to recover. “My kids were young, and we had nothing,” said Smith, a member of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA).
It was the kindness of others that aided in her recovery. “Everyone needs help at some point in their life,” said Smith. “And I knew that, one day, I would want to pay it forward.”
That opportunity came earlier this spring when Smith was extended an opportunity to work on the COVID-19 pandemic’s frontline of care in New York. Through her contract with AMSURG, a division of Envision Healthcare, Smith joined the national medical group’s travel team and was assigned to work in New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital in the upper West Side.
“My kids were on board with me going. I had the means and the opportunity to go. I was equipped with personal protective equipment and the appropriate resources, and I was ready.”
When Smith arrived at the hospital, she hit the ground running. “My first two weeks were very busy. I ran ventilator management and tended to the oxygen needs for patients in the COVID-19 unit. I did whatever needed to be done, working in the ER and ICU. Some days, I had 25-26 patients. That’s a lot of patients. I had never seen anything like it.”
In the beginning, little was known about the virus, and medical care was based on evolving knowledge. “We had to work to prevent the spread, protect patients and healthcare workers. We did everything to care for patients —I would go six to eight times a day from changing bipap to high-flow nasal cannula,” said Smith,” working to keep patients off ventilators and get them back to baseline to prevent damage and lung trauma.”
“Patients only have you to care for them and be at their side. Some patients could not communicate. The enormity of the situation was overwhelming,” said Smith.
To help her through, Smith had a support system. “I had a lot of people to help keep me going.”
“It’s great that we have received so much support and that nurses are being recognized. But it’s hard for people to truly understand all the work that we do. We gave our all, and when a critical patient was able to leave the hospital, it was an accomplishment.”
As hospitals across the country continue to deal with the pandemic, CRNAs continue to care for critically ill patients. Their unique skills and expertise have allowed them to step forward in a way only a few others can, leading the way in advanced airway and ventilation management that has been essential in addressing the virus. During state emergencies federal and state governors temporarily removed barriers to CRNA practice, further reinforcing the need to utilize CRNAs at the full extent of their education and training.
During her time in New York, Smith admitted to being concerned for the public’s health and safety. “The virus does not discriminate and impacted people differently. But it was important to help. It’s important for everyone to help. You don’t necessarily have to go to the frontlines; it can be in so many other ways, but it’s important to help people.”
Smith completed her work in New York mid-May. While the experience will remain with her, one thing the pandemic has shown her is that, “There is good in everybody.”