By Ruth Thompson
Lily Reid, left, and Katey Ferguson had just graduated from nursing school when they were hired to work with COVID-19 patients at the Boston Hope Medical Center, a 1,000-bed field hospital set up at the Expo Center in Boston
The ink was barely dry on their college diplomas when Lily Reid and Kathryn “Katey” Ferguson were called to action in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two Scituate residents had just graduated with their bachelor of science in nursing degrees when they accepted positions at the Boston Hope Medical Center where they cared for patients with COVID-19.
“We have spent the past four years in nursing school training for this,” said Ferguson, who graduated from Boston College in May. “We were very eager to use our skills and knowledge to join the front lines. It was difficult to sit and watch the news and know that we could be helping, so when the opportunity to work at Boston Hope arose we didn’t hesitate.”
The Boston Hope Medical Center was a 1,000-bed field hospital at the Expo Center where 500 beds, run by the Partners organization, were dedicated to patients suffering with acute COVID-19. Boston Healthcare for the Homeless oversaw the other 500 beds which were used for COVID-19 positive patients who were experiencing homelessness.
Reid, a May graduate of Saint Anselm College, said she had anywhere between four to 15 patients depending on the day and the amount of staff that was there.
“I took their vital signs, assisted with basic needs such as hygiene, and most importantly helped make them comfortable.”
She and Ferguson jumped right in starting the very first day they reported to work.
“The site was very new and it was staffed with doctors, nurses and other personnel from all over Massachusetts,” Ferguson said. “We would write our names with markers on our body gowns so people could tell who we were. It was very much a learn-as-you-go experience. As the site got up and running changes were being made each day.”
Reid and Ferguson wore many hats at Boston Hope.
“We would show up to the shift and search for our name on a white board,” Ferguson said. “Sometimes it would be listed under ‘nursing assistant,’ and other times as ‘coordinator’ or ‘case manager.’ We learned what it truly means to be adaptive.”
The science and caring of nursing
“Nursing is a very humbling profession as you are caring for people during some of their most vulnerable times,” Reid said. “This profession definitely challenges you in many ways but it is also extremely rewarding. I have always had a love for science and caring for people, so nursing just made sense for me.”
Due to the shutdown of schools and colleges, and the social distancing mandates because of COVID-19, Reid and Ferguson did not have the typical senior year of college, nor did they get to have the anticipated graduation ceremony or the parties afterwards.
“Losing the end of my senior year was tough but throughout nursing school I learned nursing is sometimes a sacrifice,” Reid said. “Rather than wallowing in self-pity I knew I had to step up and offer my help where it’s needed.”
For Ferguson, nursing is something that you have to choose “over and over again.”
“You have to choose nursing each and every day because there are good days but also really hard days,” she said. “We knew we wanted to have careers that were defined by helping people.”
While at Boston Hope, Reid and Ferguson felt safe and protected in the PPE. Patients were very courteous to the staff and made the effort to keep the required 6-ft. distance; they also wore masks while at the facility, and avoided coughing on the staff.
“We really liked getting to talk to the patients and understand their experience with COVID-19,” Ferguson said. “It was nice that we got to take some time to sit down and chat with patients or play board games, which helped them feel more comfortable and also pass the time. Our favorite part of nursing is the patients.”
They worked at Boston Hope for a little over a month before the field hospital stopped taking patients.
“I met some really cool people through this job,” Reid said. “Some were new grad nurses while some came out of retirement to work there. I loved hearing their stories and advice.”
COVID-19 and quarantine
Reid was not nervous for herself about COVID-19; she was more concerned about exposing anyone she came into contact with beyond the job.
“I took all the precautions and had very little contact with those outside work but it was still a fear,” she said.
Reid and Ferguson were both fortunate to be able to stay at Reid’s grandparent’s house in Scituate for the duration of their time at Boston Hope while the grandparents were in Florida.
“This was an ideal situation because we kept each other company and we were able to study together for our last college finals,” Reid said.
Still, they felt isolated being away from family and friends.
“We bonded with the wild animals that passed through our yard each day,” Ferguson said. “We discovered two hawks that nested in one of our trees. We would look for them each day, and it was especially exciting when our favorite deer would pass through the yard.”
The most difficult part of the job was wearing the PPE for hours at a time, both Reid and Ferguson said.
“I appreciate fresh air so much more now,” Reid said.
According to Ferguson, the masks would leave dents on their faces from the pressure, and the bodysuits they had to wear were incredibly hot.
“We couldn’t drink water, eat, or go to the bathroom while on the floor,” she said. “We left each shift very dehydrated.”
Since the Boston Hope has been closed Reid and Ferguson have had more free time to focus on studying for the licensure boards, the NCLEX. They both plan on working as RNs in the Boston area in the fall.
“We are interested to see how COVID-19 impacts and changes the healthcare system,” Ferguson said. “That being said, we are grateful for our experience at Boston Hope because we feel it may have better prepared us for those changes.”