“Working in healthcare has always presented challenges, but I have never in my career witnessed so many selfless acts as I have during this COVID-19 pandemic. Our nurses and hospital staff come to work daily, knowing that they are putting themselves and loved ones at a higher risk by doing so, but they choose selflessness over self preservation daily. I am so proud and humbled by all of our healthcare team members and the sacrifices they have made to take care of our community members and their loved ones.”

Megan Lotero, Director of Nursing
A sign reading "Heroes work here" stands outside St. Vincent's Birmingham Hospital

25-year-old Hayden native Amanda Doust’s work days begin early—before the sun rises most mornings. She says goodbye to her husband and two young children and pulls out of her driveway at 5:15 a.m. to go to work as a Patient Care Assistant at St. Vincent’s East Hospital in Birmingham. She normally provides support for the doctors and nurses: checking patients’ vitals, helping them bathe and brush their teeth, making sure their linens are clean and they are as comfortable as possible. But “normal” shifted dramatically in March of 2020, when the hospital began seeing patients test positive for COVID-19.

“When we opened up the COVID unit, one of the ladies asked if I would like to work in the unit in a different position,” says Doust. “I chose to work the unit because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to do what the firefighters do and run toward the fire.”

Doust quickly found that her role, while different, was integral. The nurses who come into the unit change into scrubs and start tending to sick patients. They take care of as many tasks as possible on each visit to a patient’s room to conserve Personal Protective Equipment and are not allowed to leave the unit without showering and changing clothes. Amanda became a runner because she could no longer interact with patients, but she was able to leave the unit and bring items directly to the patient’s door.

“I would go get all the things the nurses needed,” says Doust. “We had so many ICU patients, but our unit wasn’t an ICU unit, so I would have to get whatever the nurse needed while they were in the room. You can only prepare for so much and the task list can get long once a nurse gets into the room. We were having to get pumps from all over the hospital, IV poles, fluids, tubing from all over the hospital.”

As the staff adapted to the daily challenges of treating COVID-19 patients, Amanda recognized a need to provide emotional support for the patients isolated in their rooms as well as the nurses who were often dealing with difficult situations alone for long stretches of time. She became a shining light for people on some of their hardest days, walking the halls to share encouraging messages for the patients and nurses and inspiring employees to engage patients in games through the glass walls.

“We received a patient on our unit who was very scared, very upset,” Doust recalls. “She thought she had the flu and then they were testing her for the virus. I knocked on the door and welcomed her and I started a game of tic-tac-toe with her. I had seen an employee playing with another patient, so I did it too. By the end she was laughing and smiling. I was laughing because she kept winning the tic-tac-toe games. It was a very humbling experience to be that change in someone else’s day.”

Doust playing tic-tac-toe through the glass with a COVID-19 patient

“When I first met Amanda, I saw a lot of myself in her and I knew that I had to hire her,” says Director of Nursing Megan Lotero. “She had such a drive to make an impact in people's lives, and said she felt a calling to do that in healthcare. She has such a passion for patient care. Amanda is one of my best hires to this day!”

“I don’t want anyone to think that the patients are in their rooms isolated because we’re doing as much as we can to make them as comfortable as possible and the people working are amazing,” Doust says. “I had a lot of respect for my nurses before this, now I am just amazed at how strong they are and how amazing they are. They have inspired me to become a nurse.”

Doust says she has not worried about her own health and safety because she’s used all the precautions. At the end of each shift, she goes home, changes out of her clothes and gets straight in the shower. Her three- and five-year-old kids have learned to wait patiently for a hug from mom.

“They’ve gotten used to my husband sitting them down on the couch,” she says. “I put my pajamas on and they come running. They understand.”

Doust with her husband and children

Doust begins classes at Wallace State Community College in the fall and will continue working while she earns her degree.

“I feel proud to be doing this. I can’t wait to be working with the nurses, alongside them in a different way. Taking care of people and helping is what I always wanted to do.”

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