Nursing student Rachel Rewa returns from Detroit-area externship fighting coronavirus in one of the hardest hit areas of the country

Nursing student Rachel Rewa wearing safety glasses and a facemask.

As many students turned to online instruction during the coronavirus shutdown, Kellogg Community College Nursing student Rachel Rewa was getting hands-on nursing experience working on the front lines fighting coronavirus in one of the hardest hit areas of the country.

Rewa, of Otsego, recently completed a weeks-long stint as a nurse extern at the Warren campus of Ascension Macomb-Oakland Hospital near Detroit. Warren’s Macomb County is among the hotbeds of coronavirus activity in the state, with 293 deaths; with nearby Oakland and Wayne counties and the city of Detroit, the region accounts for more than 83% of the nearly 1,800 COVID-19 deaths in Michigan.

Rewa said her floor was “COVID positive,” meaning every single patient she had was known to be positive for the disease. Her daily responsibilities were focused on patient care, she said — turning, cleaning, bathing, feeding, etc. — as well as answering call lights, monitoring patient vitals and making patients more comfortable.

As an extra set of hands on the floor, Rewa said, it was also part of her daily routine to hold phones while patients said their last goodbyes.

“That was the most difficult part for me,” she said. “Creating a relationship with a patient that you knew wasn’t going to make it out of the hospital, and also watching this sweet soul pass away with no family allowed to see them.”

In some cases, she said, patients are confused and don’t understand where they are, why there’s an oxygen mask on them or why their family can’t come pick them up. At one point during her externship, the morgue was at capacity and wouldn’t have room for more bodies until the next day.

It was a lot of death for one day, Rewa said.

“This is a very challenging time to work in health care,” she said. “It was scary, to put it mildly. Most people that go into nursing want to do the best for their patients, keep them alive and help them get better. During this national crisis you witness more death than you’re prepared for.”

This wasn’t how Rewa expected to begin her nursing career, but it was a great reminder of why she started: To create a human connection, bring patients a healing touch and help the underserved.

Rewa graduates from KCC’s program this spring, and said she recently accepted a nursing position at Bronson. She also hopes to continue her education to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

“My education from KCC was excellent and laid the framework for extraordinary patient care,” Rewa said. “I know that I can start my nursing career off with a strong foothold based in knowledge and experience from Kellogg.”

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