Nurse feature

Marleana Collins is a nurse at Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital. She is serving on the front lines in treating COVID-19 patients. JASON M. REYNOLDS

One Murfreesboro nurse is selflessly living out her dream of trying to make people well in the midst of the pandemic.

Marleana (Jenkins) Collins is an Oakland High School graduate and a nurse in a progressive-care unit at Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital.

The Murfreesboro native said she has worked at the hospital for three and a half years after having graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She married her husband, Michael, in May, and she is pregnant.

And Collins is living out her dream, even though the coronavirus is making that work a challenge.

“I always wanted to help people; it’s in my character,” she said. “Nursing, for me, was always a given. I knew coming out of high school that that’s what I wanted to do.”

At Oakland, she said, she did not take the health science pathway. That had to be selected in her freshman or sophomore year, and her softball workout class conflicted. However, she said, she took college-prep classes including AP.

Working at Saint Thomas means she lives in her hometown where most of her family is located.

The progressive-care unit at Saint Thomas is similar to a step-down unit, she said. That means it is between an ICU and a medical-surgery (“med-surg”) floor. That unit, now with 36 beds, is part of Saint Thomas’ new expansion and fully opened last July in the middle of the pandemic, she said.

She and her co-workers have been fighting on the front lines of the pandemic and treating COVID-19 patients, work that is both rewarding and taxing.

“It’s so rewarding to be able to take care of them, but it’s been very challenging for us as well,” Collins said. “We see the patients struggling. We see that they’re alone — they can’t have family. We have a lot of people die alone. We get to be there with them. We get to do that. But it’s so said, it’s mentally challenging for us (and) physically.”

The nurses offer patients FaceTime calls with family. Once patient care is done for the day, self-care and relying on co-workers are crucial, she said.

“At the end of the day, we’re all there for each other,” Collins said. “That’s the most important thing — knowing I have other colleagues and the Saint Thomas organization; they offer to help. I have not done that, but we get emails about it and mental breaks.”

Collins said the progressive-care unit is almost always full.

“The hospital is packed more so than ever before in the time I have worked there,” she said. “In the last two months or so, we have seen more COVID patients than we have ever before. We still get our mix of regular chronic conditions.”

Saint Thomas places COVID-19 patients mostly in one area, she said. However, her progressive-care unit is unique because its staff is able to run oxygen machines; patients who require high amounts of oxygen come there. So, they have a mix of COVID-positive and non-COVID patients. The unit does not run ventilators.

COVID-19 patients who do not need high levels of oxygen are generally kept in the COVID unit.

Even now, the treatments are not working 100 percent, Collins said. Patients will stay on her unit for weeks at a time, and often the nurses do not see them get better.

“Sometimes we do,” she said. “But most of the time, it seems like they don’t.”

Many of those who do not get better have comorbidities, she said. But there are patients with no comorbidities who are “very, very sick.”

Collins added, “The most help I feel we get … is the support of others and the support of the community. We have children and people who write on our sidewalks outside our employee entrance, drawing cute little pictures.”

The hospital workers also greatly appreciate people bringing lunch, gift baskets and snacks, she said. People holding signs and organizing parades in the parking lot also help.

“That’s where most of our hope comes from right now,” she said.

Teamwork is key, as well as focusing on the patients, she said.

“We as nurses want to care for them, we want to make them better, and they know that,” she said. “And they are appreciative of us. It makes our jobs a little bit easier, a little bit brighter.”

“We are there to take care of the patients, ultimately,” Collins said. “That’s why we are there. That’s our job; that’s what we do. We’re happy to do it. It can be at times physically, mentally, emotionally exhausting. Just because of how hard it is. But at the end of the day, you’re helping someone. You have to look at that. We’re doing our best; that’s all we can do.”

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