They’re humble, selfless, brave, inspiring and inspired. They’ve acclimated to situations that many have only read about on their electronic devices. They’ve gone to any and all lengths to attend to their patient’s needs. These words are only a few descriptors for Meredith Gusman and Hannah Downin, two nurses who work at Frederick Health Hospital (FHH). This year, Frederick’s Child readers nominated and voted for these women as the best nurses in the Hometown Heroes: COVID-19 Pandemic Response category in our first Readers’ Choice awards poll.
Although both Gusman and Downin are too modest to give themselves any praise for their work, they are more than ready to highlight each other’s accomplishments.
“We’ve known each other and worked together for over 20 years,” Gusman says. “Hannah puts her patients first. She’s just awesome. She’s meant to do this. I know why she was nominated.”
Downin says, “Not only does she (Meredith) put her patients first, but she puts every staff member on the floor first when she’s in charge. She makes sure everybody is taken care of—as well as the patients. She’s amazing at that.”
It seems to be a logical assumption that our readers would agree with those sentiments. Gusman has been a nurse in labor and delivery at FHH for 15 years. Before this time, she was a unit secretary for one year while she was in nursing school. “I’m a charge nurse now. That’s my primary role,” she says.
Their passion is more than evident. Describing her beginnings in this field, Downin says,” As of July, I’ve been here (at FHH) for 13 years in labor and delivery. I came straight out of nursing school to labor and delivery, which a lot of people said not to do, and I don’t regret it one bit.”
The Unknown of COVID-19
No one could have prepared Downin and Gusman for what was one of the most significant challenges of their nursing careers: COVID-19.
In the beginning, the two needed to figure out how to make every room at FHH suitable for a COVID patient and were treating every patient as if they had COVID. The unknown, they say, was a continuing worry. Protocols changed every day. Procedures needed to be put into place to protect the staff. And patients who were already in a vulnerable situation with giving birth to a baby in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic further complicated matters.
Dealing with emergencies is the status quo when you practice medicine in this environment. Gusman explains that she deals with emergencies every day that don’t have anything to do with COVID.
“(A patient) can go from fine to not fine in three seconds,” Downin says.
Yet a sense of security seems to pervade in a place where the two spend such extensive amounts of time. “I can honestly say—and this is going to sound a little weird—but when I was here at work is when I felt the most at ease. Everyone here just acclimated. We stuck together and we made it work. It was almost like an alternate reality … it was just the norm,” Downin says, “I think being here I always felt safe.”
Loving What They Do
Downin is passionate about caring for babies and supporting families throughout the process of bringing a child into the world. “I love the process of taking care of women through their pregnancy and delivery and being a part of their story. Everybody’s story is different. Sometimes my patients will say to me, ‘Oh, it’s just another baby.’ No, it’s not.’”
“There are so many firsts with the things we have experienced during the past two years,” Downin says. She loves to take pictures. Now, many of the family photos that she takes for people involve someone on a phone screen. She says that she tells a mom who has just had a baby to “hold her up. It’s the closest you’re going to get (to your family.) They love it. It’s a story.”
“I saw a lot of moms crying on Facebook,” Gusman adds.
According to Downin, “Moms would be sleeping outside in their cars in the parking lot because that’s what made them feel closest to their daughter.”
Patients tell them they want to take their masks off for pictures. Downin tells them, “That’s great, but take some with your masks on too. Hopefully ‘this’ (COVID-19) never happens again, but you want to document this.”
Serving the Community
Downin and Gusman express nothing but appreciation for the community that they can serve and for the relationships created from their work.
“This job is all about making connections and that’s what I love,” Gusman says. “I love that every day I get to come to work … and no day is the same. I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I know I’m going to make connections. What I do is going to make a difference, and after 16 years, you just know that. You know that what you’re doing is a big deal.”
Downin fondly remembers one of many patients who have impacted her life. “I have a patient whom I delivered six years ago this month. She (the mom) was pre-term. Her baby weighed just under 2 pounds. He’s 6 now. He just started kindergarten. We’re friends on social media, and I get to watch him grow. Every year, she tells me how thankful she is that I was there that day.”
Downin continues, “I don’t do it (the job) for that (the recognition),” she emphasizes, “but it makes you feel good knowing you made that much of a difference in someone’s life on a very important day in their life. In her case, it was a very scary day because of how early she was. I gave her comfort that day—now look—here he is: 6 years old.”
For women who spend so much of their time taking care of others, they admit that they need to take care of themselves.
“We know how to compensate,” Gusman says. “Most of the time, we know how to take care of ourselves and the necessity for sleep, food, and people around you who understand that your job is not typical, and it takes a lot out of you. Twelve hours is long and hard, but in a very short period of time of being a nurse, you figure out what you need to do to survive,” she says.
When asked why they think they could have been nominated for the Frederick’s Child Readers’ Choice awards, Gusman says, “I have no idea. It seems like something my sister would do, but she swears she would not do that.”
These women do not do this job for any acclaim or attention. They do it because they cannot imagine doing anything else.
Why were Meredith Gusman and Hannah Downin nominated for our Readers’ Choice awards? How could they not have been?