The VOICE of UPMC Shadyside Winter 2020–2021

“Hundreds of people are part of this effort, and I thank each one of them…”

Tim Herzer, MSN, RN
Unit Director, Medical-Surgical Intensive Care Unit

Although Tim Herzer is a longtime critical care nurse, when his eight-bed ICU became the COVID ICU in March 2020, he admits that he and his colleagues were “scared to death. No one knew a whole lot about this virus. But all of a sudden, we — the whole hospital — had to respond 100 percent to it. My family was scared, too. ‘Dad, are you going to be safe?’ my kids said. ‘Do you have to sleep in the garage?’

“But we soon discovered that our ICU was maybe one of the safest places in the hospital to work. Every person who comes through the ICU had to adopt and adapt to many new processes — universal N95 masking, face shields, goggles, hair bonnets, full garb with the impermeable gowns. People who can’t use an N95 use a PAPR (powered air-purifying respirator) with a HEPA filter fan blower. You put all this protective equipment on before entering a patient’s room, and you take it off when you come out. Family and visitors too. 

“I did the same thing when I got home, taking off everything I could before hopping in the shower. Normal soap and water are very effective against this virus.

“The only thing that stayed the same was the patient-care tools we have always used — our extensive knowledge of critic­ally ill patients; high-level equipment and processes; wholesome, empathetic nursing care; and fantastic communication among team members and colleagues. 

“I am so tremendously proud that our ICU never transmitted the virus to any of the employees. It proves that if you work your system and your processes to the nth degree, 100 percent correct, you will be safe in a zone like this.

“I am so tremendously proud that our ICU never transmitted the virus to any of the employees. It proves that if you work your system and your processes to the nth degree, 100 percent correct, you will be safe in a zone like this."
- Tim Herzer

“With COVID, patients are apart from their families for a long time. To address this problem, Information Technology gave us some iPads so people could communicate with their loved ones. But it’s not the same as in person. I especially remember one of our first patients, a husband and a dad in his mid-30s. When he was finally off the ventilator and we were actually able to get his wife and his kids face to face with him, so they could talk to each other, it was like the clouds opened up. We were all so happy. I met him and his wife again recently, and they expressed their gratitude to everyone who saved his life. That was truly fulfilling.

“Critical care staff unfortunately have to be experts in end-of-life care as well. I’m grateful that we have been able to safely allow families to spend last moments together when someone is dying. It’s been very tough when patients pass away. But the hospital has made grief counseling available to us, along with resiliency support. That has been tremendously beneficial to me and my team members.

“But please let me make one thing clear: By myself, I am nothing in this ICU. I am simply representing everybody who has cared for these patients — nurses, doctors, respiratory therapy, nutrition, house­keeping, the whole conglomerate who had to bridge the gap between the lack of knowledge about this disease and our ability to provide excellent patient care in a time of historic need. Hundreds of people are part of this effort, and I thank each one of them for their continued dedication, hard work, and support.”