Health care workers reflect on Thanksgiving Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — “It’s been a very interesting year.”

Those are the words of Michelle Healy, a physicians assistant with Sanford Health. Healy and two other health care professionals sat down with KELOLAND News ahead of the holiday to reflect on the past year, and to express what it is in life that they are thankful for.

Healy works in palliative care. “We’re a team that’s consulted by physicians when there’s complex medical issues,” she explained. “We are support for families and patients. We provide education. We provide symptom management at a time when patients and families are having a tough time.”

Healy didn’t start out in palliative care, she’s worked in that area for a year.

Prior to making the move to palliative, Healy worked elsewhere in the hospital. “It’s been a vey interesting year — I actually transitioned from a surgical position to palliative care in the last year.”

The COVID-19 pandemic took off in earnest just after Healy made her transition.

“The pandemic has certainly impacted my entire team,” she said. “It’s been very challenging — In my role in surgery, I felt that a lot of my role was education and communication with families. That background helped me transition to palliative care. I use my history throughout my entire career; every day.”

Though the roles she has been in are similar, Healy says the stress she is under now is different. “Emotionally, it’s more challenging than my surgical role was.”

Healy recognized that the risk of burn out is ever present in the health care field, as with so many others. Asked about her Thanksgiving shift, she says that she is on call, and will be at the hospital when needed.

We go into medicine to be there when our patients need us. They don’t get a choice when they get sick or they get hurt, so we show up when we need to.

Michelle Healy, physicians assistant, sanford health

“There are so many things that I’m thankful for,” said Healy. “Every time I thought back to ‘what am I thankful for,’ and all these things come flooding back — they all go back to love. Love in itself gives you passion for what you do, it gives you compassion for who you’re working with, it gives you hope and I see people every day here who show up for work even though it’s tough.”

Asked if she had any final thoughts on the Thanksgiving season, Healy kept it simple: “I’m glad I’m here to enjoy it.

Sean is an emergency room nurse, and he also works with Sanford Health. He’s been in the ER for a little over two years, having done his undergrad schooling at USD before heading to SDSU for his nursing degree.

Sean say his time over the last year has been difficult to quantify. “Ever changing I would say is probably the best way to put it,” he said. “For weeks at a time, COVID patients are all that we have, and then we have a couple of weeks where we’ve got everything but, and then a couple weeks where it’s all COVID again.”

In terms of keeping a handle on his stress levels, Sean keeps things simple. “Just going home and trying to get a good night’s rest; spending time with family and friends outside of work; doing things that aren’t related to work at all.”

Sean is thankful for the support he has to help him get through each day in a stress-filled environment.

The thing I’m most thankful for, despite being a very high-stress environment in the emergency department, nearly all of my coworkers and I have been really understanding of the situation that we’re working in and have done a really go job of kind of noticing when we’re at a low point and [are] able to pick each other up.

Sean, ER Nurse, Sanford Health

That internal support network is vital in the high stress area of the emergency department. Sean notes that day-to-day, the team never knows the condition that patients will be in when they arrive.

Sean says that this year he wants to enjoy the holidays. “Honestly, it seems like a lot of times, even excluding the pandemic, a lot of times the holiday season can be really stressful — I hope that I can just enjoy the time that I have with my loved ones.”

Troy Alley is a registered nurse in Avera’s cardiopulmonary floor. He says that in his unit, things stay busy. “There’s a little bit of everything — we mainly get cardio and pulmonary, but we just see all sorts of things; assessing patients, taking their vitals, of course working hand-in-hand with everyone on the inter-disciplinary team.”

Alley has been in his position for eight years. He says that the pandemic has led to a lot of changes. “Initially, getting these COVID patients, our assignments changed. There were a lot of unknowns,” he said.

Overall though, Alley says that the day-to-day function of the job didn’t change much. “The hospital never stops, but getting those COVID patients certainly put a little — maybe anxiety, I suppose — into people.”

Similar to Sean, Alley point to those around him providing a certain sense of solidarity. “Our team work is second to none. We’re always able to laugh with each other,” he said. “When things go south, we’re always there for each other.”

Alley says that this year, particularly in light of the dark days we’ve seen throughout COVID, he is thankful for a lot. “Oh boy,” he said, gathering his thoughts. “There’s a lot to be thankful for. Coworkers — you know, working hand-in-hand with them through this and through definitely some tragic situations.”

Asked for final thoughts, Alley chose to hammer home his emphasis of the importance of those around him. “I think I said it before, but I’m thankful for the teamwork we have here,” he said.

This last year and a half has been tough, but definitely hasn’t been as tough as it probably could be if we hadn’t stuck through this together.

Troy alley, registered nurse, avera

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