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How Belmont alum Wren Sherrill is working to fight COVID-19 directly

COVID-19 is a dangerous prospect — but some must face it head-on to help others through this pandemic.

Those individuals earned the title of “Nashvillians of the Year” from the Nashville Scene: the staff of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s COVID-19 intensive care unit — and Belmont alumna Wren Sherrill is one of them.

And nearly a year after the Medical-ICU transitioned to become the COVID-ICU, Sherrill is still struggling to work through difficulties she never thought she’d experience.

“COVID just amplified everything: the volume of patients that we’re taking care of, the length of time at the hospital, the intensity of the work. Patients are sicker, unfortunately the volume of death is a lot more. It’s just like everything is harder,” Sherrill said. 

“It’s like nothing that I would have ever thought I’d be doing and having to work with.”

After graduating from Belmont’s nursing program in December of 2011, Sherrill worked in Vanderbilt’s Critical Care units, earned her master’s degree as a nurse practitioner from Vanderbilt, and worked in the neuro-ICU at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. She then returned to Nashville and her previous position in the Medical-ICU at VUMC.

The Medical-ICU specializes in respiratory diseases, so it made sense for that team to become the COVID-ICU staff.

While Sherrill is used to working with older patients, it’s the middle-aged patients that have really had an impact on her while working in the COVID-ICU. Diseases that people can usually live a long time with, such as diabetes and hypertension, are now considered serious comorbidities and cause major complications when combined with COVID-19.

“That age range, the 50s and 60s patients — I connect with them a lot because I feel so bad for them. At that point, a lot of them have just retired and they’re in the prime of their life. They’re getting ready to go travel the world and be with their partner and their kids are grown and I have a real hard time with those patients,” she said. 

“It just seems so unfair.”

Hospitals all over the country have experienced changes throughout the pandemic — and Sherrill has watched these changes unfold before her eyes at VUMC. 

While medical centers have struggled with lack of resources, having to limit visitation and canceling non-emergency procedures, there have been positive changes in how hospitals are run as well, said Sherrill.

“I think that healthcare workers overall have stepped up and are doing jobs they’ve never done before,” Sherrill explained. “They’re doing things they’re uncomfortable with and that are much harder than they’re used to, and that kind of collaboration is really inspiring.”

Another positive came for the staff of the COVID-ICU in early December: they earned the title of “Nashvillians of the Year” by the Nashville Scene.

“Still, some among us have spent the better part of this year going directly toward the risk, taking the fight to the virus. Doctors and nurses have tended to the people it sickens, fighting for the lives of people whose bodies are in danger of being overwhelmed,” wrote Steven Hale of the Scene.

“We look at them with awe and gratitude precisely because they are not superheroes, but simply people, our fellow Nashvillians who have done an excruciating job on our behalf.”

The news of their recognition came at a time when the job was getting especially difficult, said Sherrill.

“In the very beginning I think health care workers were really admired and thanked and then the middle came and people started getting some COVID fatigue and all of a sudden they didn’t like what we were saying,” she said.

While the interviews for the article took place after a long string of night shifts for Sherrill, she was more than willing to return to the hospital to speak directly to the Scene about the work they’ve been doing at the COVID-ICU.

“It was fun to feel good for a minute and be with my team and not be in the trenches where we have been but instead being celebrated. It was uplifting,” she said.

“That was a happy moment for us and it felt good. We held our head up a little higher.”

This article written by Anna D’amico.

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