KU Cares: Jayhawks on the Front Lines - Brianne Riley

Brianne Riley is a an oncology nurse at Northwestern Memorial in Chicago. Riley is the all-time digs leader at Kansas, and also holds the single-season record. The Naperville, Illinois native was an All-Big 12 honorable mention honoree, while she was also named to the Academic All-Big 12 First Team three times. 

Learn more about her experiences as a nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic below.

Q: What have the past few weeks been like for you?

Riley: “A mix of scary, unknown and many new challenges. We have completely flipped our hospital around in order to fight and prepare for the Coronavirus. It has been crazy to watch this evolve over the past couple of weeks, see how our hospital and medical teams have adjusted our policies, treatment and care for those who have been affected by COVID-19. Every day the predictions are changing and there are new obstacles that our teams must deal with. It’s a very odd and scary feeling when they tell the whole world to go on lockdown, but you are required (and very willingly) going to work everyday. ”

Q: How has the pandemic affected Chicago?

Riley: “The city is not used to being shut down this way and it took people a little bit of time and enforcement to get used to the rules. Way less traffic I will say! The city does a #Solidarityat8 movement where everyone comes out to their balconies and sings songs together, chant and make noise for the all the essential workers who have been working through this. It’s so powerful and is really amazing to see people coming together. I think it brings people hope.”

Q: How has your role changed as a nurse?

Riley: “I work on an inpatient Oncology floor. Our patients being immunocompromised and in one of the highest risk populations, fear for their lives on a daily basis while trying to battle cancer and now must fight COVID-19. My role has changed in the fact that we are constantly making adjustments to make the best possible decisions for our patients to keep them safe. Nurses are being pulled and asked to care for COVID patients as well as make game-time decisions that will affect their personal lives as well. Our medical team members have to take extra precautions when going home to their families and some have chosen to completely quarantine themselves from loved ones. I have a few family members in the high-risk population (heart conditions, diabetes, elderly) who I have quarantined myself from given my potential every day exposure, which has been very hard.”

Q: What has been the most challenging part or your job?

Riley: “I think the most challenging part of this has been to watch my patients battle through this on their own. At this time the hospital is not allowing any visitors. Some of my patients are unable to make decisions on their own, are elderly, very young or are going through a lot and really rely on having loved ones there for support. They are now fully reliant on us to be their advocates and are trusting that we are doing what is best at all times. We have many patients who unfortunately reach the end of their life with us. Knowing that they missed that precious time without their families because of this virus is something that really sits heavy with me. It has been extremely challenging for their family members and I know that is something they have to live with forever. ”

Q: Is there anything that has been a positive to you during this time, or what can you take away from this experience?

Riley: “Seeing how people are coming together and the sacrifices that people are making. While we did sign up for the job, asking healthcare workers to risk their lives on a daily basis really is an ask and its amazing to watch how all of these strong people don’t even blink an eye when the challenge is presented to them. Watching what these patients go through is a very humbling experience. We live in a world much bigger than ourselves and the power of teamwork is essential during this time.”

Q: What would you like to tell anyone reading this about staying healthy during this time?

Riley: “STAY AT HOME! I know this is large ask of people and seems like such a bizarre concept. Seeing what our patients and their families go through first hand from COVID-19 is something I will never forget. These patients take a turn for the worst very quickly and it is happening to people who you might not ever expect. No one is exempt. It is so important to do your part. We all have a responsibility in this fight. Stay home, wash your hands, avoid those at high risk, reach out to loved ones or someone you know who might need to be checked-in on, disinfect surfaces, and be mindful of your own mental health!”

Anything else you would like to say …

Riley: “This quarantine leaves a lot of uncertainty and I think it’s rightfully hard to understand if you are not seeing the effects of it firsthand, but I can tell you from personally witnessing the severity of it here in the hospital, this virus is not something to take lightly. The whole world is making unbelievable sacrifices right now and everyone should know that they are playing an important part in our fight.”