A group of Massachusetts General Hospital nurses, thankful for the support they received during the worst of the region’s spring coronavirus outbreak, is paying that kindness forward by sending meals to nurses in some of the areas currently hardest hit by the pandemic.
The idea to feed nurses at hospitals in Arizona and Florida came from Kim Herron and Lee Bodock, longtime registered nurses in the neurological intensive care unit at Mass General, who hope to send meals to a Texas hospital soon.
“We want people to understand that there are still people who are dealing with this in other places,” said Bodock, 43, who has worked in the neurological ICU at Mass General for 17 years. “We want to spread the word that we want to help them as much as we can.”
In March and April, their unit became an overflow ICU for coronavirus patients, who at times filled every bed on the unit and each required a ventilator, the nurses said. For nurses accustomed to dealing with neurological patients, it was a dramatic shift.
“This was very new to us,” Bodock said. “We don’t see this type of respiratory failure. It was a hard transition. It was obviously a hard couple of months for everybody at MGH.”
“Even in the height of flu season,” Herron added, “we don’t get overflow flu patients because another unit is too full. …We wake up our patients, do neuro exams. We’re talking to our patients all the time. And with COVID, we weren’t. They were sedated, on ventilators.”
But as cases declined in Massachusetts and ticked upward elsewhere, they saw reports of hospitals in other parts of the country overwhelmed by new cases there. They thought of the nurses in other neurological ICUs dealing with an entirely different set of challenges.
So the longtime friends “got our heads together and said, ‘You know what? These poor nurses are now going through what we went through. Let’s do something for them,’” Bodock said.
In the worst moments of the spring surge of cases in Massachusetts, she said, one of the greatest comforts they had were meals that were donated by people supporting health care workers.
They put out a call in a Facebook group for their unit, asking for donations to send meals to nurses in other neurological ICUs dealing with the same challenges they had experienced.
So far they have raised close to $2,500 from a staff of roughly 100 people, with some physicians and residents contributing.
“We had lots of donations very quickly,” said Herron, 41, who has worked in the neurological ICU at Mass General for 11 years. “It was all of our coworkers, just the neuro ICU staff. … Some people have done multiple donations.”
Bodock said the credit should go to everyone who contributed, not just herself and Herron.
“When word got around this is what we wanted to do, everyone said, ‘Yes, we want to jump on board and support staff around the country and let them know that they’re not alone in this fight,’ " she said.
Hannah Glover, a registered nurse who donated, said that back in March and April, “We received so many food donations, and it was like the one thing, I feel, that kept us going and kind of let us feel that other people were thinking of us … because a lot of us weren’t seeing our families, and obviously weren’t seeing friends.”
So when the opportunity came to help out other nurses, it was a no-brainer, she said.
“We just could totally relate to how awful and stressful, and just all the emotions you feel having to be a nurse during this pandemic,” said Glover, 24, who has worked in Mass General’s neurological ICU for two years.
Herron and Bodock chose Phoenix for their first meal donation and fed the day shift and night shift neurological ICU nurses at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix on July 20. For their second donation, they chose Miami and fed both shifts in the neuro ICU at Jackson Memorial Hospital on July 30.
In both cities, restaurants gave the nurses discounts to help stretch their donations farther, they said.
Bretton Josey, a registered nurse at Jackson Memorial, posted about the gift on Facebook, and by Monday the post had more than 1,000 shares and 700 likes.
“And THIS folks... Is why America is already great,” Josey wrote. “Nurses from Mass Gen Hospital thousands of miles away in Boston sent us dinner tonight here at Jackson Hospital Miami.”
Herron said they have received great appreciation from their fellow nurses at both hospitals.
“I think that they’re all just so grateful that we would think of them, as a neuro ICU,” she said.