Junerose Gambito, 33, and her 32-year-old sister Sheikha "Shae" Gambito have nursing in their blood, as both their parents were nurses too. Now, they're fighting for COVID-19 patients at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.
Junerose started at the hospital as certified care technician 13 years ago, while Shae started in the same role a year later. Now, both certified nurses who work side-by-side on the 2-Core floor, a cardiothoracic surgical unit for open heart surgery patients.
Despite the family connections, Junerose said that what really drove her to pursue a career in nursing was the profound difference she could make in a patient's life.
"It's not even the big lifesaving moments," she said. "It's the small moments, like washing my patient's hair or shaving their face. There are little things you can do to change a person's day, just even being in the room and having an extra conversation with them."
Shae echoed that sentiment.
"We were put on this earth to be nurses," she said. "I feel in my heart that it is our duty to take care of people."
Providing care for post-surgery patients enables the Gambito sisters to spend extra time comforting them and providing them with the opportunity to spend extra time finding ways to positively impact their day.
However, when their floor was converted to a COVID-19 unit, it made it difficult for any of the nurses to spend extra time in patients' rooms. But patients are isolated from their families with visitor restrictions, something that weighed on both sisters.
"When we first found out we both would be working on a COVID unit, we were together," Shae said. "Of course, we were nervous and scared, but we had each other for support and for motivation."
Family somehow became even more important.
"I really leaned on my parents and sister," Junerose said. "They can understand what I'm going through. Working side-by-side with my sister is such a blessing. I can talk to her whenever I'm having a hard day or I'm feeling scared or overwhelmed. She's there for me, and that makes all the difference, so I just can't imagine not being able to reach out and talk to my family."
They tried to fill the void left by patients not being able to physically connect with loved ones.
"All those fears we had about working on a COVID unit wen away as soon as we started taking care of the patients," Shae said. "My heart went out to them. We saw the patients and I immediately wanted to do whatever I could to help them not feel so scared and alone and to help them get home to their families."
When Junerose checked in on her patients, she said she always asked to ensure that they have all been able to contact or talk with their family that day.
The hospital has a few iPads available for patient use, and both sisters said all of the nurses will do whatever they can to get an available iPad so patients can FaceTime with their loved ones.
It gives both the patient and their family a little peace of mind to be able to actually see each other, beyond talking on the phone.
The Gambito sisters strive to be there for their patients during the good moments and the bad, and they cry and grieve together during the darkest hours.
For Junerose, some of the good moments came when she could show a family through FaceTime that their loved one was doing better and when her patients recover and get to go home -- something they are now seeing more of.
"It was great to see that the patients were able to go home and breathe easier without the needs of any type of oxygen support," Shae said. "That's some of the brightest moments we've had among all this chaos. We've been able to celebrate more and more patients going home to their families. I love seeing that."
And they will continue looking on the bright side of the pandemic.
"There are positive results," Junerose said. "And for the patients who feel alone and for the families who feel helpless, I want them to know you are not alone. We are here for you and we are doing whatever we can to keep people not only safe and healthy, but to keep you connected to your loved ones. That support can make all the difference in the world."
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