By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published April 30, 2020
AUGUSTA—As Jaime Gilbert’s nursing shift at an Augusta hospital on April 1 was done, she and others stood on the helicopter pad overlooking the parking lots.
Cars filled the surrounding lots. Drivers flashed the headlights. Horns blasted. Music blared in appreciation of the medical worker heroes tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
“It makes me feel really happy. They feel appreciative of us. We are not used to attention like that. It’s weird to us, a weird in a good way.”
Gilbert, a member of Our Lady of Mercy High School class of 2014, said the outpouring of support touched her heart.
“I didn’t expect myself to be moved. It brought tears to my eyes. You don’t think you need that when you hear it. It brings you comfort,” said Gilbert during a phone interview on an off-day from the hospital.
As the pandemic grew, Gilbert’s life in the hospital changed. The 25-year-old surgical recovery nurse served in a makeshift ER, cared for an intensive care patient and screened visitors at the hospital entrance before restrictions were put into place. The hospital is not named for privacy concerns.
Her tasks put her in contact with people potentially carrying the virus. She knows her hospital is treating patients with COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus, from a daily email sent by the hospital.
Augusta is about two hours east of Atlanta. It is the largest city in Richmond County. As of April 27, there had been 369 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 14 deaths in the county, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
The hospital tightened the number of visitors. Visitors are not allowed except one person for a baby delivery and two visitors for a dying patient. Gilbert understands how it can be difficult for people.
“You get visitors who are angry they have to leave. At this time, with what is going on, we just try to explain it as nicely as we can,” she said.
Gilbert grew up worshipping at St. Matthew Church, Tyrone. She attended Our Lady of Victory School and then the Fayetteville high school. From there she completed her core nursing classes at Kennesaw State University and then the Augusta University Nursing School where she earned a bachelor’s in nursing. She is a registered nurse.
As a teen, she visited clinics nearly monthly for treatments of chronic fatigue syndrome. Kind nurses inspired her to pursue this work. From them, she learned medicine isn’t about drugs only.
“A little bit of positivity can go a long way and help them,” she said.
That’s the attitude she tries to bring to her job where increasingly people are stressed and tense.
“Everyone is a lot more somber,” said Gilbert. Everything is supposed to reach a peak, but we don’t know when. Everyone is just waiting.”
She began working last July after passing her nursing certification exams. She has found herself facing extraordinary situations as a young nurse. Blue scrubs had been her typical uniform. Now, masks are required. When she helped in the ER, she donned the full armor: N95 mask, surgical mask, gown, eye goggles, hair net and gloves.
She comes home and immediately puts her work clothes in her washer. She sets it to the hot water cycle to clean them. Her blue Skechers shoes remain in the car as she swaps into Crocs to wear into her apartment. Social distancing like everyone else, Gilbert is spending her time reading the Harry Potter books and watching Netflix series.
Gilbert said she’s looking for a parish in Augusta, which is in the Diocese of Savannah. At the end of a day’s shift, she prays alone in her apartment.
“I’ve been praying more. When I come home, I let it hit me. I sit in my room by myself,” she said. “It is in God’s hands and it’ll all be OK.”