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Emily Modoono Sadler ’97: Caring for COVID-19 Patients in the ICU

Emily Modoono Sadler ’97 spent the spring working in the COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) at Ahuja Medical Center a community hospital in Cleveland. In addition to medications and oxygen, the nurse would bring an iPad into the room. As she held the screen up, relatives could speak to the sickest COVID-19 patients, many of them unconscious, some on the verge of death.

She witnessed too many heartbreaking goodbyes.

Sadler worked in the ICU during the first wave of COVID-19 when there was little information on how to treat the virus. “We thought putting them on a ventilator would be the best thing so they could rest their lungs. But as we got more information on how the disease progressed, we found out that was not the best route.

So, we tried our hardest not to put them on ventilators if we didn’t have to.”

Adding to the stress was the changing information on what personal protective equipment would keep health care workers safest. “It was very stressful. We didn’t even know how to protect ourselves.”

Sadler and others who worked on what was called the “COVID Corner” had to isolate themselves from the rest of the hospital and staff. They had access to a break room with donated food, and the hospital offered chair massages, meditation sessions, counseling and other services to help health care workers deal with relentless stress. Still, it could be hard to keep morale up within the confines of the high-risk bubble.

Visitors were banned from the hospital initially. The unit had two iPads, and relatives were given a time to call in via video chat.

With many patients sedated and ventilated, most couldn’t talk. But sometimes, Sadler would see a tiny hint of recognition, like a spiked heart rate, after hearing the voice on the other line.

After her shift, she would go home to her husband and teenage son, stopping in the garage to take her scrubs off before going inside. “It was hard. We didn’t know what we were bringing home to our family. We weren’t hugging or coming in close contact. That was hard because we are a very affectionate family.”

In June, as the first wave of COVID-19 subsided, Sadler heard about an opening on the labor and delivery floor at University Hospitals in Cleveland. It was a specialty she had hoped to work in since nursing school, and the new position would keep her in the same hospital system.

Pregnant women still must worry about contracting the virus – in fact, she said, they are slightly more susceptible – but she has not seen any cases on her new unit. “I went from an area of sadness to an area of joy.”