By Goldi Riyahi Egger, Red Cross Volunteer
Virgi Mateo has administered more than a million flu shots throughout her career, but she’s hardly a prickly pear. I spoke with Virgi, an American Red Cross volunteer and home healthcare director, to gain some insight into what life is like as a healthcare professional during these difficult times. During our conversation, she also shed light on how we can do our part in small ways to support them.
In addition to her healthcare career, she is a dedicated teacher at California Institute of Technology and has many students that she is thrilled to teach. She is also a proud dog mom to three rescue dogs.
“They’re my mental health right now,” she said.
In her role as Director of Patient Care Services at Superior Home Health Services, she oversees a nursing team that provides in-home care.
“Our job is to keep them out of the hospital, doing everything they do in the hospital at home except surgery,” she said.
What keeps many nurses coming back day after day is the work’s intangible rewards, such as the satisfaction of being able to care for another human being. Another reward is the human contact, which recently has been nearly eradicated, for safety reasons.
“That is the biggest thing [nurses] are talking about is that touch, that simple touch,” she said. “Someone said it best, there’s a ‘skin hunger.’ I’m used to hugging my patients after they get well, and we can’t do that.“
Other than human contact with her patients, what is one thing she misses that she cannot wait to do again as soon as restrictions are lifted?
“I would love to have dinner with friends again,” she replied. Her first stop would be her favorite restaurant, Celestino Ristorante in Pasadena.
Another question I had in mind was how we as community members could help nurses reduce their workload.
“Follow medication instructions so that you don’t get side effects,” she said. “Some of the brightest people are just taking [medications] wrong,” hoping to advance their healing process. Yet they are only increasing side effects, leading to higher patient loads for nurses.
In addition to taking our medications properly, I was curious how else we could show our support. She told me that there are several Facebook groups that share users’ appreciation and admiration of nurses, and that the messages of support are encouraging.
I asked Virgi if there were any silver linings she had discovered during the pandemic. Here were her observations:
- You get to meet your neighbors more than ever and people are talking over their fences.
- Families actually talk to each other instead of being stuck on their screens.
- People are outside on the street, playing music and writing well wishes with chalk for strangers.
I enjoyed interviewing Virgi. Her insights revealed how patient loads could be reduced if people followed instructions more attentively; how healthcare professional morale could be easily boosted with kind words; and how the hope of a new normal around the corner makes us grateful for the most basic pleasures in life.
Happy National Nurses Week to all the wonderful nurses that touch our lives.
This piece is part of our National Nurse Week Series. Stay tuned throughout the week for more stories about Red Cross Nurses and the incredible services they provide.