December 9, 2021
OXFORD, Miss. – For Katherine Artman, a medical intensive care unit pharmacist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, a quote from author Mary Anne Radmacher has helped her through tough times as a COVID-19 frontline worker:
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”
For the 2007 School of Pharmacy graduate, it was a reminder that small steps forward mattered during those difficult moments. Artman, along with 2017 alumnus Cody Taylor, have experienced every emotion since March 2020, but staying true to a pharmacist’s calling has kept them moving ahead in UMMC’s MICU.
“Ultimately, this is my job and these are my people,” Artman said. “During this incredibly trying time, the entire MICU team pulled together to support each other. I could tell you story after story of things we witnessed – the nurses holding the hands of patients so they wouldn’t die alone, the FaceTime calls so loved ones could say goodbye and the tears as we lost another patient.
“We learned to rely on each other as no one outside of the unit could truly understand the devastation that we dealt with every day. We are a stronger team today because of all that we have seen.”
The coworkers’ first experience with COVID came when they returned to the hospital after their respective vacations. Initial plans were developed for the unit in preparation of COVID-19 patients, and things remained calm. A week later, the global pandemic was fully in Mississippi.
“It was like someone flipped a switch, and we were over maximum capacity for our unit overnight,” Taylor said. “My role as a pharmacist evolved greatly during the first few weeks of the pandemic. These patients were sicker than our normal MICU patients.
“They required even more care from our doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses and respiratory therapists. I worked very closely with our providers to manage therapies for these patients.”
COVID-19 treatment strategies varied for the UMMC health care teams that included preventing patient blood clots as well as managing insulin, pain and sedation regimens.
Pharmacists also found themselves in non-traditional roles. Taylor said with the IV pumps outside of the rooms, there were times he would be the only person available to adjust the needed equipment, while he also quickly learned about many of the nurses’ supplies needed to become a runner for the rooms.
Consultations with physicians on their team is still an ongoing process, updated periodically when new evidence from clinical trials is available. Updates were also needed because the MICU became strictly COVID-19 patients during the delta variant outbreak, and these patients require more monitoring and medication adjustments.
“During this most recent surge, the bad days were unfortunately way more common than the good days, and it can make it hard to persevere,” Taylor said, as he noted that most patients were younger and more critically ill than the initial wave. “But we do. We do because we took an oath to serve others, to care for others, to improve the lives of others.”
Making a difference for those patients’ lives keeps Artman and Taylor moving forward. The Oath of a Pharmacist echoes back in their actions of being there for those who truly need it.
“There have been so many days where it would have been easier to walk away, but we kept coming back, fighting for our patients,” Artman said. “I learned to more fully celebrate the victories… I’ve learned that we can do hard things.
“Although we were pretty imbedded into our teams and floors prior to the pandemic, I feel that these relationships have strengthened. I know the profession of pharmacy will continue to evolve and find more ways to care for our patients directly.”