It was the scariest time of her life, but seemingly small acts made Randa Swindlehurst feel a world better.
Intubated and heavily sedated, Swindlehurst was battling COVID-19 at St. Luke’s Meridian in January. It was lonely, as visitors weren’t allowed.
Nurses, respiratory therapists, doctors and environmental services staff had to be decked out in personal protective equipment, so face-to-face contact wasn’t quite the same.
Like so many patients that have been through a similar situation, it could all be discouraging.
But Swindlehurst, 31, said what made a major difference for her to get better was those St. Luke’s team members who not only took care of her while she was in the ICU, but also boosted her spirits.
“They made me feel so human in such an inhuman time,” Swindlehurst said. “I never felt alone. Everyone was so warm and caring. I knew they were there with me, wanting what’s best for me.”
Swindlehurst tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 4 and spent the next 10 days at home. But she had a 105-degree fever, and after a clinic visit, was sent to the St. Luke’s Meridian emergency department. She said Dr. David Hightower “was amazing” in taking care of her before she moved to the ICU.
Early on Jan. 15, Swindlehurst was intubated, where she spent the next four days. Being heavily sedated, she doesn’t remember much, but when she improved, something caught her attention.
“When I kind of came to, I realized some of the nurses had braided my hair,” she said. “They didn’t know that when my sisters and I would be going through something difficult, that’s what we did. When my sisters saw they’d done that, they sobbed. I couldn’t even believe it. It was so far above and beyond.”
But that’s just part of the job, according to RN Hayley Gardiner, one of the nurses who cared for Swindlehurst.
For male patients who are stable and intubated, nurses may shave the stubble that has grown while sedated. They might even braid a patient’s hair, as it can get matted remaining in the same spot for days at a time.
“It gives them some dignity when you’ve got tubes and cords attached to you in bed in this ugly gown,” Gardiner said. “It’s a traumatic experience being on a ventilator, so making them as comfortable as you can is so important.”
COVID-19 has presented hurdles to create the connection team members may have previously had with patients, so small acts like that go a long way. Gardiner and other nurses would call Swindlehurst’s family via FaceTime so they could see her, even if she could do little beyond nodding to questions. Her family brought pictures to the front desk to be put up into her room.
“That’s for us as much as it is for the patient – it’s a reminder for them about what’s important, but it also lets us know who this person is,” Gardiner said. “I felt like I knew who she was before she even said a word to me.”
They could tell how much family meant to Swindlehurst – and how her sisters had also seen that bittersweet mix of joy and pain in a difficult situation. Her sisters both had twins in 2017 two weeks apart at St. Luke’s Boise, all four born prematurely. One baby did not survive, though the other three are now doing great after a difficult start.
That experience helped inspire Swindlehurst and her family to create the DIV Community, which puts together diaper bags full of necessities for NICU moms, including things like gift cards for food, toothbrushes for those overnight stays, books, blankets and more.
During the recent holiday season, they donated 20 such bags to St. Luke’s and another 10 to a hospital in Swindlehurst’s hometown of La Grande, Ore.
“They were taken care of so well, and of course their babies were too, so it was a motivator for us to try to find a way to help out moms like them at St. Luke’s,” Swindlehurst said.
After becoming a patient herself, Swindlehurst saw again how much care there was around her. Discharged on Jan. 24, she remained on oxygen for about 10 more days, but now is off it, back to work and happy. And even though she was hospitalized, she stresses the importance of preventative measures, including masking and vaccinations. She was vaccinated, but also takes immunosuppressant medications. In her words, she says "If you don’t do it for yourself, please do the right things for others."
She also gained even more confidence in the way she sees her future taking shape – she’s planning to become a nurse, starting with the College of Western Idaho’s program in August.
“The way I was treated was so inspiring,” Swindlehurst said. “When I was up after being intubated, the way the woman cleaning my room lit up, I knew everyone was cheering for me. The teamwork to help me get to the bathroom, everything, they’re so busy and been through so much, but I was so appreciative.”
So appreciative, in fact, that Swindlehurst posted a heartfelt thank-you note to all who cared for her on Instagram, which Gardiner later saw. Praising Swindlehurst’s “incredible eagerness to get better,” her appreciation resonated deeply.“It restored a lot of hope,” Gardiner said. “Nurses have gone far beyond their normal requirements. It was a huge win for our team. Her experience gave me so much hope after such a dark, dark time.”
Dave Southorn works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.