33-year-old Married Mother of Six Works Full-time as a Certified Nursing Assistant and is a Full-time Registered Nursing Student at Carrington College Tucson
To say that Roberta Rogers has a demanding schedule would be an understatement. The 33-year-old married mother of six works full-time as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at a long-term care facility and is a full-time Registered Nursing (RN) student at Carrington College Tucson. On a good day, she is flying by the seat of her pants and juggling a lot, so it would make perfect sense if developing an illness like COVID19 with pneumonia was to derail her education. Amazingly, it didn’t. She stayed on track and persisted despite the adversity that came her way.
Roberta had already spent more than half of her life working in health care when she started at Carrington in April. Embarking on the program was a natural progression in her nineteen-year-long history working around and with patients. She was just fourteen-years-old when she took her first job doing housekeeping at the local hospital after school and on the weekends. That’s where her mom was the Director of Housekeeping. And while having her mom in that position might have helped with getting the job, Roberta is clear that her mom did not give her any breaks on working hard.
She insists that, if anything, the opposite was true, “I couldn’t cut any corners. I had to set an example for other employees because of being her daughter. So, I learned so much about rules, regulations, ethics, and policies and procedures.”
It was during her time doing housekeeping as a teenager that the seed for the idea to become an RN was planted and first took root. Roberta saw what nurses did and really liked the idea of doing similar work dedicating her life to helping other people. That idea naturally grew over the years as she continued to work in various health care settings and roles. She worked in the cafeteria for a mental health facility, as the housekeeper at a crisis center, and served in reception and admissions positions in different medical settings. Now, as a CNA, she mostly works with adults and seniors with skilled needs for a company she enjoyed worked for in the past.
The United States has the second-largest Spanish-speaking population after Mexico and about 20% of Arizona speaks Spanish. Unfortunately, there are too few Spanish-speaking workers in the healthcare industry to meet all of their needs. Roberta had the unique experience of attending a Spanish language immersion school during her childhood in Ohio. Because of that, she is fluent in reading, writing, and speaking both English and Spanish. This means she is able to engage with the Spanish-speaking residents at her work who may be lonely and longing for some company. She is also able to communicate with patient’s families, which has been extremely helpful, even critical, during the COVID19 pandemic while so many feel disconnected from their family members and confused about what is going on. Roberta is quick to point out that caring for the wellbeing of the family is part of providing quality health care for the patient. She isn’t Hispanic herself, and she says that she has really enjoyed how much she has learned about Hispanic culture through these interactions and experiences.
After her desire to become an RN took hold, it did what dreams often do–it sat on Roberta’s to-do list for a number of years growing and nagging at her. The timing just never was quite right due to various life circumstances. These included being a single mom, newly married, and then pregnant with three babies one-after-another. She simply was too busy. Someone might look from the outside and say the same about her life today, but Roberta has a well-thought-out plan to make her RN dreams come true for her and her family. Of course, there are practical motivations behind becoming an RN beyond her personal desire to do the job. She says that becoming an RN will triple her income and create new opportunities for her family of eight. That’s yet another reason why she started the RN program at Carrington in April ready to give it her all. Right out of the gate, she was acing all of her assignments and tests. She even had perfect attendance while also working 32 hours a week. Then she caught what everyone fears in May: COVID19. As it has for many around our nation and the world, it threatened her health and, by doing so, her dreams.
Roberta is certain she caught it through her eyes while wearing a mask and caring for an asymptomatic senior patient at the long-term care facility where she works as a CNA. The woman had poor hearing, so Roberta had to get close to communicate with her. She didn’t think too much about it when the woman coughed because this patient always had a low-level cough like many people. A few days later, however, the same patient was sent to the hospital when she suddenly developed plummeting oxygen levels. That was when they discovered the patient had COVID19 and the information quickly got back to Roberta.
She said, “I got to work on Mother’s day and they said they had sent her out to the hospital, she tested positive, and my heart sunk immediately. I knew at that moment, I’m going to have COVID. How do I go home and tell my kids and husband?”
It wasn’t long after that when Roberta and her 14-year-old daughter started to develop signs of the disease. They were feverish, achy, tired, and just felt rotten. They even had what are now known to be classic COVID19 symptoms–they lost their senses of taste and smell.
“It’s so weird to smell pepper and not to sneeze! My daughter would have a mouth full of garlic and say ‘I don’t taste any of it,’” she said.
They tried to isolate the best they could in their home, but her other children still needed to be cared for because they are 9 months, 6, 7, 8, and 12 years old. In addition to being sick and doing Carrington online, Roberta still had to be a mom. Her husband works long hours, and they are dependant on both of their incomes like most families, so it wasn’t possible for him to stay home with her not working. This meant that as Roberta’s COVID19 symptoms ratcheted up, she never really got to rest as much as doctors advised. She already has asthma, but then she developed breathing issues as her illness developed into pneumonia by the 12th day. When the doctors at the hospital wanted her to stay in the COVID19 ward for treatment overnight because she was still testing positive, she told them that she simply couldn’t do it. She had 6 kids at home and schoolwork to complete. She was so dedicated to her schoolwork that before even going to the ER for her breathing issues, she made sure she took her chemistry midterm. She scored a 195/200 and really wanted to keep her momentum going. The doctors relented and gave her an IV of fluids and a prescription for antibiotics before sending her back home to recuperate.
She slowly recovered after being away from work for three and a half weeks. She says that all she could think was, “I want to get back to work!” Remarkably, she didn’t miss a day of school or a single assignment. It helped a lot that she was able to do everything online remotely. And while her anatomy and physiology test scores took a bit of a hit while she was sick because her cognition was temporarily affected, her most recent scores show that she is back to acing them like her old self again.
“I’m able to show my teacher, ‘see, it was just from being sick that my test scores slipped,’” she said.
Now that Roberta is feeling better and back to work, she is putting in as much time as possible until December when she will likely cut back her hours in order to focus more time on school–more specifically, clinicals. She may even change to working per diem. She has to wait and see what the pace of school and work is like when she gets to that time. With the COVID19 pandemic surging around the country, she feels as though it’s still too early to know what the medical landscape will look like then. What she does know now is her long-term plan is to be a hospice nurse working with adult patients and their families. One of the greatest things Roberta feels she can do is help families reach a point of acceptance so they can give permission to their dying loved ones to move on and let go so their suffering isn’t prolonged.
She emphasized how important the family is in the hospice dynamic by saying, “Comfort care is for the patient and a lot more hospice care is geared toward the family. You have to help the family cope. Make sure the family is comfortable during this time and knows what is going on. Hospice helps explain the dying process without being harsh about it.”
She also likes that hospice care would utilize multiple aspects of her education and a variety of her skills. She wants to employ her people skills while doing a variety of different things from IV care, wound care, chart documentation, and medication management–to name just a few areas. She said, “I want to learn everything that I can without feeling like I’m in a bubble and doing the same routine every day. I want to know that I was able to think on my feet and it made a big impact. You feel rewarded when you do those bigger things.”
Roberta is doing numerous big things in her own unique way and that includes beating COVID19. There is no doubt that her experiences with it as a patient, student, and a mother will help bring clarity and comfort to patients during this uniquely trying time in our nation’s history. All of the work she has done since the age of 14 in healthcare has built on itself, helping to create an ambitious, insightful, and dedicated RN-to-be who can juggle many different areas of life all at once while persisting relentlessly in the face of adversity. Her patients and their families will be in exceptionally capable and compassionate hands. It doesn’t get much better than that.