When Duty Calls: Working in an ICU During COVID-19

October 30, 2020

Typically, we photograph everyone appearing in HealthU. Because this story was planned during the surge of COVID-19, that contact would have been too risky. Instead, our team took a creative approach and replaced photo shoots with illustrated portraits.

When COVID-19 cases were surging in New Jersey, many people wouldn’t raise their hand to head into the danger zone.

But Caitlyn Sutter isn’t most people. A registered nurse at Bayshore Medical Center, Caitlyn volunteered to serve in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Hackensack University Medical Center, which found itself at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in New Jersey.

“I knew they were getting hit hard, and I knew my resources were better utilized helping them out,” Caitlyn says. Plus, she thought it would be a tremendous learning experience. “Hackensack has a great reputation for being one of the top hospitals in New Jersey, so to have the opportunity to work in the ICU was something I got very excited about.”

That was in the beginning of March 2020, right when the COVID-19 crisis was raging and Hackensack was experiencing a massive influx of positive cases. “They needed help. At one point, there were 160 intubated patients and five overflow floors,” Caitlyn says. “One extra set of hands can do a lot more help than people realize.”

At the end of her two-week volunteer placement, she requested to extend her stay.

“I knew that every hospital across the network was having staffing difficulties, but Hackensack had the highest number of critically ill patients to be cared for,” Caitlyn says. “I had such a great experience during the two weeks, so it really wasn’t a hard decision to stay, and I’m glad I did! I knew they needed my help.”

Now that the COVID-19 case load at Hackensack has stabilized a bit, Caitlyn has returned to her original post at the ICU at Bayshore. But the lessons and experiences she learned helping out during the pandemic haven’t left her. “It was awesome working with such talented and humble nurses despite the circumstances,” she says. “We became a family—all of us—with one purpose: to help and save lives.”

What’s your favorite part of your job?

“I love being a nurse and making people smile on their most vulnerable and worst days. Their smile and ‘thank you’ is enough for me, just knowing that I’ve helped them have a little bit of light in their day.”

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