Dr. Elizabeth Day has been a provider for more than 16 years. Ever since she was a kid, she's loved the idea of healing people.
"I was an avid reader and would read about Native Americans and medicine and was fascinated with the idea of being able to help people," she says.
The past two years have been far from normal for anyone practicing medicine. While most communities are currently seeing less COVID-19 patients, it doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten the tough peaks of the pandemic. Dr. Day says she’s seen more death during COVID-19 than any other time in her career.
"Being in a small town, these are people I know. They're families I know. It's taken an emotional toll on all of us," Dr. Day says.
Her hospital has the only critical care physician within a 90-mile radius. In partnership with another provider, they alternate shifts every 3-4 days. She says during times of high COVID-19 spread, the demand on care teams and providers increased as well.
"We've tried to help out more with the shortage of patient care techs and nurses, but I always worry about my nursing staff. We try to support each other the best we can, but it's tough, even though we've gotten very used to the severity of illness of our COVID patients – good or bad. So, that part of the stress has eased up, but it's just continuous. Despite the challenges, our team adapts well to rapidly changing situations," she says.
One of those team members is Heather Skinner, who Dr. Day has served as a mentor for during her time at UnityPoint Health. She started as an EMT but has been working as a tele-tech recently, keeping a close watch on heart monitors through the night.
She says the job is a lot harder than she thought it would be. Prior to this, she was in the middle of the action and now, it's hard for her to sit and watch as people pass away. But she says Dr. Day is helping her get through it.
"She's arguably my best friend at this hospital," Skinner says. "And despite everyone feeling burned out, she keeps going. She's there at 8 a.m. and leaves at 8 p.m. and will be on call the next 12 hours. Then, she does it again the next day.”
Dr. Day makes herself available for whatever everyone needs. She's been there for patients even when she hasn't been on call. On top of that, she's made sure people know she's available for texts.
“She's kind of been like everybody's mom. She accepts no compliments. She doesn't brag and is super humble. She's gotten everyone through this pandemic so far, I think," Skinner says.
Outside of work, Dr. Day has 16-year-old twins, a gang of pets and a husband who works as a cardiologist at the same UnityPoint Health hospital.
"They're not impressed with mom being a doctor," Dr. Day jokes. “Although one of them is taking a health foundations class in school and ‘feels pretty cool’ about knowing a lot of the curriculum already.”
Dr. Day admits balancing the needs of work and family is tough. So tough, that her own personal needs often take a back seat. However, she takes solace in being with her family when she can, especially during lulls in the pandemic. But she says she'll keep going regardless of what happens…because she has to.
Thankfully, she's got an exceptional crew on her side at the hospital.
"Medicine, especially critical care medicine, is very hard for people to understand who aren't engulfed with it. We deal with life and death very quickly and have to turn from one critical scenario to the next, without missing a beat, or sharing any weakness. It's important you have somebody who knows what it feels like. Not a lot of people understand the bond we have with each other. We're very much a team here," Dr. Day says.