“If I removed my mask you’d see a smile” CHI Health doctors, nurses celebrate COVID-19 vaccine

10/11 NOW at 5
Published: Dec. 15, 2020 at 7:08 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Cheers echoed through the halls of CHI Health St. Elizabeth as ICU nurse Jackie Vaverka got the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

She said the experience was a little “unnerving,” but only because of the cameras.

“It just felt like any other flu vaccine,” she said.

But for Vaverka and her coworkers, who are each celebrating the vaccine for their own reasons, no vaccine has been anticipated like this one.

Jackie Vaverka, an ICU nurse at CHI Health St. Elizabeth, received the first vaccine at the...
Jackie Vaverka, an ICU nurse at CHI Health St. Elizabeth, received the first vaccine at the hospital.(KOLN)

Vaverka has worked in the intensive care unit, treating the sickest COVID-19 patients in the hospital.

“We see a lot of patients who come to us and they’re not very sick, but it progresses and their family can’t see them. So, we spend a lot of time with them, but wearing PPE creates a distance,” Vaverka said.

That distance makes it hard to connect with patients, even when the hospital staff is all that they have.

“I’m really hoping this vaccine will make it so we have less patients, but their families can come visit them,” she said.

She’s hoping this is a light at the end of a really tough tunnel.

Dr. Cory Shield put his fist in the air after getting his vaccine.

The hospitalist telling reporters he was getting the vaccine so he can see his grandparents and so he can care for those most vulnerable in the community.

“I want this so those who have pre-existing conditions and who are elderly can live their lives, can see their families again,” Shield said.

For burn unit nurse Matthew Tolliver, the vaccine is a weight off his shoulders.

Matthew Tolliver, a burn unit nurse at CHI Health St. Elizabeth, received the COVID-19 vaccine...
Matthew Tolliver, a burn unit nurse at CHI Health St. Elizabeth, received the COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday morning.(KOLN)

“Burn patients are probably the sickest people in the hospital, they are very immunocompromised,” he said. “I worry about my patients a lot.”

He said now that he’ll be vaccinated he won’t have to worry about getting his patients sick, only helping them get better.

Critical Care Pulmonologist Dr. Ryan Martin said for him, for the community, this is a the hope needed after ten months of the hardest work they’ve ever done.

“It’s a present under the Christmas tree, it’s coming at a good time,” he said. “The enthusiasm is going to get better and better over the next month or two as people start to see we’re no longer behind the eight ball.”

The resounding message they want to spread is that the vaccine is safe, Shield said.

“We’re all part of humanity too. We understand the risk. It’s not easy, but we hope that the message shows that we trust the system and this is very important thing. Really, we need to get back to normalcy.”

Dr. Zjiun Hao, a general surgeon who was among the first in the group to get the vaccine, said he wasn’t nervous.

“I was excited, I was not afraid,” Hao said. “I trust the system. They’ve done their jobs in making this safe for most people.”

The workers looked back on the last ten months.

Martin, saying he remembers the first COVID-19 patient they had in the hospital. It was March 17. He said it was the first time in his career where he’s been scared for his patients, himself, and his coworkers.

“It gets hard when you just don’t have a lot of tools in the toolbox to help somebody out,” Martin said. “You don’t have a lot of treatment options. Every day you’re looking at somebody, wanting something to change or improve, but you don’t have a number of tools to help them out.”

But now, they have a tool.

“If I took my mask off you’d see me smile,” Martin said. “This is going to change the trajectory of our fight.”

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