Behind the mask

Health care worker shares perspective

Callie Ruohomaki, LPN at UP Health System-Bell/Family Medicine poses in her scrubs at work. (Photo courtesy UP Health Systems)

ISHPEMING — The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many changes in our daily lives here in the Upper Peninsula and all over the world. The cautious reopening of the region has helped to ease some of the social isolation that stay-at-home orders and mandatory business closures have brought. But the new normal in many cases is a far cry from what daily life was like pre-coronavirus.

This especially holds true for the 161,825 nurses who hold licenses in the state of Michigan, like Callie Ruohomaki, an LPN for Family Medicine at UP Health System-Bell.

Ruohomaki, who has given The Mining Journal an exclusive look “behind the mask,” said Bell takes many precautions to ensure the safety of anyone who comes into the hospital or clinic buildings, whether it be patients or employees.

“When we enter the facility, our temperatures are checked to make sure we are healthy and symptom-free to be at work,” Ruohomaki said. “Additionally, our facility has universal masking — which means all employees and patients wear masks at all times during the day. We wear additional personal protective equipment such as N-95 respirators, gowns and face shields in patient care areas when we would be coming into contact with COVID-19 while caring for a patient.”

Since the pandemic started, her personal life has changed as well, Ruohomaki said.

“I have two young children at home, and one has asthma. Because of that, when I get home, my children can’t run to the door to hug me or greet me. Instead, I remove my scrubs in the entryway and they go straight into the washer, and I immediately take a shower,” she said.

And those actions are just the beginning of her newly adopted after-work regimen.

“I then do one to two hours of online learning with my children each night in addition to teleconference meetings with their teachers,” Ruohomaki said. “After dinner is done and the house is cleaned, I try to get a good night’s sleep so I can do it all again the next day. I know that many of my co-workers with young children are doing the same thing right now. It’s challenging, but we are all in this together.”

Protocols that are necessary to help keep everyone safe and stop the spread of the virus have also created challenges at work, she said.

“One of the difficult things for me is not being able to provide the same level of high-touch, comforting care that I’m used to. Whether it’s giving a high-five to a pediatric patient that just got their shots and was brave, holding the hand of a patient and reassuring them everything is going to be OK, or a comforting hug and shedding a tear with a patient,” Ruohomaki said. “The most important thing I have to offer my patients is my ability to express how much I care about them.”

Ultimately, though, COVID-19 has not changed the way Ruohomaki does her job.

“I still come to work and spend my days taking care of my patients — whether via the phone or in person. Though things might look a little different, my number one priority is still caring for my community,” she said. “Even though our entire world has been turned upside down by the coronavirus, it doesn’t change what health care workers have been called to do. We get out of bed every morning to take care of you and your family like our own — and taking care of our community is top priority.”

A positive change she notes as the pandemic unfolded has been the way the community has come together amid the pandemic.

“Neighbors helping neighbors, supplies being delivered to those who cannot go out and the appreciation that has been expressed to health care workers — it has been very humbling,” Ruohomaki said.


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