AlumnaeApr 23, 2020

— updated Aug 10, 2020

Jennifer Rodgers ’92 is working in critical care on the front lines of COVID-19

She is a 23-year veteran nurse at Berkshire Medical Center in the fast-paced ICU, where no day is ever the same.

Jennifer Rodgers '92 is a 23-year veteran nurse at Berkshire Medical Center, working in critical care on the front lines of COVID-19. She is the mom of three daughters, including Dillon Rodgers ’22.

Jenni’s dad, who was a driving instructor to MHS students over the years, had a hunch that Jenni would thrive at Miss Hall’s. Here, she studied math and science and fell in love with learning, problem-solving, and the ability to think ahead in multiple scenarios — skills useful in the fast-paced ICU, where no day is ever the same.

Providing care for stroke victims, patients in respiratory failure, and those who overdose, are in alcohol withdrawal, or who have experienced trauma, Jenni is used to seeing difficult cases and death. What is different in this pandemic is the need for nurses to stand in as patients’ surrogate family, the physical transformation of the hospital itself, and the reality that Jenni’s own life is on the line, too.

MHS Digital Newsroom teacher Liz Kulze talked with Jenni about what it’s like working with patients who have advanced cases of coronavirus, how she is coping with the stress, and about her points of pride through it all. Highlights from their conversation are below.

“To be able to be the one to go into work and take care of these patients and to come out with new ways to treat them and to process new information each day — I feel lucky.” -Jenni Rodgers ’92

A conversation with Jenni Rodgers ’92

What was the transformation of the hospital like when COVID-19 hit?
It was early March when we had our first patient in critical care, and we had certain rooms dedicated to these patients, and then we started getting more cases, and we literally revamped the entire unit in almost a day. We set up makeshift negative-pressure rooms for these patients. Basically, you have a room where all the air is going out into the environment. It doesn't go into the hall. Before, we only had only three rooms designated as negative-pressure rooms—a lot of the time we’ll take care of tuberculosis patients in those rooms—and so we took ten rooms and transformed them into negative-pressure rooms by taking a fan and plastic tubes and rigging them up so that the air goes into the environment. The doctors even took over the waiting room as their offices, and we had to make their offices into patient rooms. Our maintenance department literally did the entire unit in a day.

Everything happened very fast—you’re listening to the CDC and the guidelines are changing throughout the day. You leave work and you come back, and something new has changed...what type of gear we’re wearing, what type of wipes we’re using to wipe things down, how we’re sanitizing our protective wear. You don’t know what to trust, what to not trust, and how to really feel safe. But as a nurse, this is our job. I don't mind taking care of these patients, I just want to have the right protective gear to go into their rooms. At the same time, we’re learning about coronavirus and what it does and how it affects the body and how to take care of these patients. There were new treatments and ways of taking care of these patients coming in constantly throughout the months of March and April.

It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been stressful. It’s been crazy. Unless you’re right there in the thick of it, you can’t really explain it.

What’s been most difficult for you about being on the frontlines of this pandemic?
I've seen people be very sick and pass away, but the part that’s been the worst for us is that family can’t come in and visit. So, to be talking on the phone with a family member, and they’re asking about their relative, whether their mother or father or aunt and to have to be the person that they’re relying on to get information and to tell the patient that they love them, that’s the hardest part. These patients are so sick and can't have anyone there with them. I can’t imagine what that would be like for family members at home. But we do have an iPad, and the doctor will go into the patient’s room and get the family on the iPad, so the family can see them. Sometimes they can talk and sometimes they can’t, but at least they can see their family members.

Another challenging thing is the uncertainty, how quickly things are changing, and how the rules are changing, what you can do and you can’t do. But, I think it's amazing to see how everyone has gotten creative about how to keep things going.

What are you most proud of? 
It was nice to see how quickly we adjusted to all of this. It was like, this is what we have, this is what we’re going to do, and this is how we’re going to do it. Everyone was able to work together to make all of this happen.

I feel proud to be part of the nurses I work with because we really came together as a group and support each other and laugh together and get upset together. And the doctors at BMC are shining. To see them put their heart and soul into taking care of these patients is exciting to see.

And, it sounds weird to say, but it’s kind of amazing to be involved in a pandemic, to be going into work and be a frontline worker and coming out with new ways to take care of patients or communicate with families. And then there are the bonds that are being created at work. Also, knowing that there is new information coming out about the coronavirus every single day and that new treatments are emerging from that, and then being able to implement these new treatments is really exciting. I’m right in the middle of it.