Sometimes, when the world feels full of stress and strife and there’s no end in sight, all you can do is show a friend you care.
Critical care nurse Natosha Tullos, BSN, RN, works on the Neurological Critical Care Unit at the University of Utah, and she has had a tumultuous experience during the pandemic, similar to other healthcare professionals across the country. Natosha has lived through incredible challenges at the hospital, the sickness of friends and family, and the death of beloved colleagues.
How does she keep going? Every day, Natosha weaves in small acts of kindness for her patients, colleagues, and — importantly — herself too.
What has the pandemic been like for you and your team?
Oh my goodness. This pandemic has been really rough on my ICU team. We love what we do, we go into this profession because it's in our blood – we love to care for people. The unit I work on is also a COVID-19 ICU. Perhaps one of the hardest parts for most of us has been caring for our patients when we couldn’t have any visitors, so our patients were alone with us.
In our neuro ICU, in addition to patients with COVID, we received a huge influx of patients who had attempted suicide. That’s begun to ease up now. It was worse in 2020, and that was really hard on us. We had a lot of sympathy for those patients, and most of them ended up as organ donors. That was really heavy on our team. The pandemic affected people in so many ways, physically and emotionally, and we saw every aspect of it.
Having to pick up all those extra shifts has been rough on my colleagues. They’re amazing, amazing people. We all have pulled together and done what it takes to keep it working, but it's been hard. We’ve had nurses who are nine months pregnant show up for extra COVID shifts. People in grad school, still showing up for overtime shifts.
My co-workers are like family to me. This last year two very significant members of our team passed away, so that was hard too. We’ve just dealt with a lot of grief, while still caring for our patients and their grief. The people I work with are incredible. I couldn’t be more proud of them. They step up and do what needs to be done to care for these people just diligently. They take pride in not only caring for our patients but caring for them exceptionally. They practice healthcare with excellence.
How do you show your colleagues that you care about them?
I feel like it’s really important to authentically recognize my teammates and tell them how significant they are on the team. I try to share with them how fortunate we are to have them, that the sacrifices they’re making aren’t small. I’m baking batches and batches of pumpkin bread this weekend to take to all of them.
I also think laughter is important. I think most healthcare workers know we have to keep our wits about us, especially through the tragedies we witness. Even just lightening things here and there when we can — reminding one another that there is joy, and that this too shall pass.
How do you get the support you need?
I have wonderful grown children who are a rock for me, and my husband is there for me too. Throughout this pandemic, my mother — bless her heart, she’s 75 — texts me every shift and tells me to be safe. I have a wonderful support system and an amazing group of girlfriends. They’re just a circle of strength for me. Throughout the pandemic we would sit in the park, socially distanced, and we would laugh and cry. They have been a huge support.
Music has been magical for me. Whenever I come home from a hard shift I typically go straight out to my patio, and I sit out under the stars and listen to Yo-Yo Ma play the cello. The piece, the main theme of the movie “Malena,” is a tune I play on my phone when I give bed baths to my unconscious patients. It’s a simple thing, but that piece has helped me get through this whole pandemic.
My daughter is the youngest of my four kids, and she recently applied to nursing school. She is a CNA and started working with me and my team this fall. She said: “Mom, I get it. I really understand now what you’ve been through and why you just go straight out to the patio at night.” She’s 20.
You were featured on your local news station this year, and you were called a “Mama Bear.” Can you tell us more about that?
Well I’m 49, and I have a bit of that mama bear energy, and like I’ve said, my colleagues and my teammates are like family to me. I’m always making sure everybody’s OK and they’re all being fed and taken care of, that they get home and get some sleep. At the end of every shift they will hear from me, “Drive safely and sleep well.” I worry about them.
It’s been so inspiring to speak with you today. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Just how grateful I am for my team and these teams throughout our nation who just continually show up and are exhausted. And to those in our community who are so supportive and are doing everything they can to help fight this pandemic. It takes all of us, the whole community, to not only care for patients but to fight this disease in general. We’re in this boat together – let's row it together.