It’s tough enough on a family when one member is battling the front line of the medical world during the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s even tougher when two family members are fighting it together.
The husband-wife duo Brandon and Kristi Montgomery are both registered nurses at Lake Martin Community Hospital and risk double the exposure on a daily basis, which makes them fearful for their kids, two of whom live at home.
“When it all started, I was scared to death,” Kristi Montgomery said.
Brandon echoed her sentiment with their children at the forefront of their concerns.
“The biggest changes at home, especially with the 9-year-old, is when we get home he wants a hug right away,” Kristi said. “He’s my snuggler so it’s been a struggle for him.”
After working in that risky environment, she won’t even let her son get close to her face.
“He knows he can lay by Momma and give kisses but as far as being in my face all the time, he knows he can’t,” Kristi said. “We laugh at him because every time someone sneezes, he asks, ‘coronavirus?’”
The oldest daughter is 32 years old and helps look after the 9- and 13-year-olds while the Montgomerys work because they schedule the same shifts.
“If we didn’t have my oldest and my mom, one of us would have had to get opposite shifts,” Kristi said.
Brandon said the biggest change to their work routines is the common practice of gearing up in personal protective equipment (PPE).
“Just about every patient we have, we have on full PPE,” he said. “Dealing with coronavirus patients is just routine care now.”
The full PPE is hot and cumbersome making it even more difficult to treat patients and adding a level of discomfort for workers. At nearly 375 pounds, Brandon finds the PPE brutal but necessary.
“I never realized how much I rub my face until this,” Kristi said. “You get out of that PPE, which makes it 30 degrees hotter, and the first thing you want to do is wipe your face from sweating.”
It’s not just uncomfortable for staff but PPE can be scary for patients who can’t see their medical providers clearly.
“My patient contact is I make sure they know me and with all this going on, they don’t get to know who I really am,” Kristi said. “That bothers me more than anything. They see my eyes but that’s it.”
Typically staff can sit with patients and talk the elderly into eating for example or convince them everything will be OK.
“But when you come in looking like you’re from outer space, it scares them,” Kristi said.
To help quash this fear, Kristi has made it a habit to get out of her PPE, go outside look through the windows of patients’ rooms so they can see a friendly face.
The other struggle the pair has seen working with COVID-19 positive patients is no two patients present the same.
“We’ve seen a wide variety of ages from late 30s to 99 and from minimum symptoms to life-threatening symptoms,” Brandon said. “It’s been a great learning experience and we’ve learned so much as treatments changed from Day 1. Almost daily we learn new things but I do feel like treatment has become much more effective.”
The main advice the Montgomerys would give to the public is to maintain distance and practice good hand hygiene.
“The biggest prevention is distancing, hand hygiene and if you’re sick — with any symptoms — stay home,” Kristi said.
Because symptoms can present in such a variety of ways, it’s best to be cautious and avoid contact with others if a person has any sign of illness, according to Brandon.
What has stood out most to Brandon and Kristi is the outpouring of community love and support.
“This whole thing has really brought out the love of the community,” Brandon said. “The love we’ve received is amazing from providing masks, bringing by snacks, drinks and extra gloves.”
Kristi is originally from Dadeville while Brandon was born and raised in Alexander City, so they live in neutral territory in Jacksons Gap.
Kristi has worked at the hospital for about 11 years and typically handles patients on the main floor while Brandon has been there nine years and works mostly in the emergency department.
“To start with, the (emergency department personnel) didn’t have to come back to the floor to help,” Kristi said. “(Brandon) sees the stress when I get off and every day he’s made sure to ask me, ‘Do you need me to dress out and help?’ Everyone always asks, ‘How do you work with your husband and then go home with your husband?’ But he’s been my saving grace.”