For Mercy employee on COVID-19 floor, isolating from family is best Mother's Day gift she can give

Telemetry monitoring technician Jessica Kelley poses for a photo at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, M
Telemetry monitoring technician Jessica Kelley poses for a photo at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. Kelley works on the COVID-19 floor of the hospital and is also a nursing student at Mount Mercy. When they moved online classes and shut their dorms she could have gone home to stay with her mother and brother but chose to instead live at the hospital full time to protect her mother, who is immunocompromised, and still do her job. She calls her mother her best friend. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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This Mother’s Day, April Kelley just wants to give her daughter Jessica Kelley a hug. But she can’t. Jessica, 21, works on the COVID-19 floor at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids.

To protect her family and still do her job, Jessica is living full time at the hospital, which has made housing available to staff who need to isolate from their families during the pandemic.

“Just based on the floor I’m on, I don’t want to put my family at risk. It’s not worth it,” she said.

Her mother has an autoimmune disorder, adding another layer to Jessica’s worries. Though she does not interact with patients with the coronavirus directly, she still knows exposure is a risk.

“It wasn’t too hard of a decision, but it’s hard on me sometimes,” she said. “I really miss her.”

Jessica is a telemetry monitor technician. For her eight- to 12-hour shifts, her job is to watch heart monitors of patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit. If any patient starts to have cardiac distress or irregular heart rhythms, she and her fellow technicians are the first ones to notice and can notify the doctors and nurses in the main ward.

“It was her choice to either work at the hospital or come home, which was really difficult for her,” April Kelley said. “She’s only 21, so I was pretty proud of her for choosing to help. I don’t think people realize the sacrifice people are making to be there, working in the hospitals right now.”

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Jessica is finishing her junior year as a nursing student at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids. When classes moved online and the dorms closed, she had to figure out what to do. While many of her classmates moved back home with their families, doing so would have meant quitting her job. Right now, she said, that job feels more important than ever. In addition to being a full-time student, she works 32 to 36 hours a week at the hospital.

She spent about a week at home with her mother and brother in Humboldt after the dorms closed, but even then, she stayed in her mother’s finished basement and didn’t interact directly with her.

Her older brother, 26, is staying at home with their mom, and she misses him, too. Jessica said to stay connected, she does FaceTime with her mom, a social worker, almost every day.

“She’s definitely one of my best friends, one of my biggest supporters. She is a single mom, and she’s worked two jobs for the last 12 years,” Jessica said. “She always provides for us, and she’s just wonderful in every single way. She’s very caring, she takes care of everybody, no matter where you are.”

This Mother’s Day, those roles have reversed. Now, Jessica is protecting her mother instead of the other way around.

“She said, ‘Mom, I just can’t come home again, I couldn’t put you in that kind of danger,’” April said. “I’m extremely proud of the young lady she is and how responsible she is, and what she is doing during this time, to make sure other people are safe.”

Jessica’s interest in nursing came from her family. Her grandmother, aunt and cousin are all nurses. She also had an experience as a child that stuck with her and inspired her current career goal of becoming a pediatric intensive care nurse after graduation.

In the second grade, she had encephalitis. At first, she said, doctors didn’t believe she was actually sick. Her mother had to take her to a different hospital to get help.

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“They said I was making it up, that my screaming and vomiting was just trying to get attention. They said I was faking it,” she said. “At one point, I really did not know who my mom was, and that’s the scariest part, to have someone tell you that’s not real. That’s just not right, and I don’t want other people, especially children to have to deal with that.”

She became interested in the telemetry job after touring the hospital as a student. She said watching the monitors can be surreal, knowing each line she watches represents a patient she may never meet but whose life she is responsible for.

“You see their heart, but you don’t see them,” she said. “Sometimes you watch them die, but never see them. Other times, you see someone going into a fatal rhythm, and you call the nurses ... and when they finally get that person stabilized, you know they might not have made it if we weren’t there. It’s very rewarding.”

April stressed the need for people to follow public health guidelines on social distancing to stay healthy.

“I know they’re starting to open back up and people are eager to get on with their lives,” she said. “But there are a lot of people putting their lives on the line right now ... and I would hate for Jessica to have to go back and self-isolate again if there was a second wave.”

April’s sad she can’t spend this Mother’s Day with her daughter, but right now, that’s not what is important.

“Remember, there’s going to be another Mother’s Day, she said. “We all just have to take care of our people.”

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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