KU Cares: Jayhawks on the Front Lines - Claire Tungesvik
Claire (Dreyer) Tungesvik competed for the Kansas tennis program from 2011-14. She graduated from Kansas with a degree in community health, along with a business minor. Following her tennis career, the St. Louis, MO native continued her education at the University of Missouri where she earned a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. Tungesvik now works as a registered nurse at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. She resides in Tampa with her husband, Alex, who is in his last year of residency for Internal Medicine at the University of South Florida (USF). Both are working on the frontlines to help the city get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Describe how the past month or so has been for you?
It has definitely been uneasy and just overall, I would say a scary time. Because I work at a cancer institution, it’s very specialized. I work in the Pre Op Holdings department, so before patients go in for surgery they come to my department and I pretty much prepare them right before they go in for surgery. We’ve definitely seen a decrease in surgeries in general that are being performed because no one really wants to come into the hospital unless it’s absolutely necessary. We still are performing surgeries, but we’re not performing any sort of elective procedures.
We definitely in our hospital have implemented a lot of changes. Everybody’s required to wear a mask as a healthcare professional. We’re not allowed to gather more than 10 people close together and are to stay six feet apart. Patients are not allowed any sort of family members, no visitors with them before surgery. So that’s been very hard and emotional because before surgery it’s a scary time. So we’ve had a lot of emotional people and it’s been very important as nurses to try to comfort our patients as much as possible. It’s just very scary. We also have to screen and assess the patients just to make sure that they have not had it or they haven’t been exposed to anybody with COVID-19. So it’s pretty wild.
How has your job changed since the Coronavirus pandemic started? Any added responsibilities?
There are definitely shorter hours because we’re not doing as many surgeries. Normally I do four 10 hour shifts a week, but I’m lucky if I do eight or seven hour shifts. So the census is definitely dropped. As far as responsibilities, we have been approached by the cancer center to go to different nursing floors within our hospital to help provide care if they really did decide to close all procedures. Our department is still open, so it hasn’t come to that point yet, but it is a definite possibility that we would have to go into other specialties and help out if they did decide to close our unit.
How has your community been affected?
It’s really devastating for small businesses and really all types of businesses around us. We actually have a curfew in our county that we are not allowed to leave the house from 9:00 PM to 5:00 AM and if you do go out between those hours you can get pulled over by the police. So there’s no traffic, which is crazy. We don’t go anywhere but to the grocery store or work. It feels like a ghost town, honestly.
How are you doing, mentally, and how are your co-workers and patients feeling about all this?
With the patients, I feel that they are scared just because we’re in such a specialized department where they’re going in for major surgeries and they don’t have their support system with them. So that’s scary. Mentally, it is a very depressing time. I can’t lie, not being able to leave the apartment can have you filled with boredom and feeling kind of helpless at times and just uneasy. It’s not a happy time for most to be honest.
[On her husband, Alex, who is in his last year of residency for Internal Medicine at USF]
He unfortunately just started an ICU rotation, so he’ll definitely be exposed to people with COVID-19. So I’m definitely feeling some anxiety. He is a trooper and has a very good attitude. He sees this as our chance to serve our country.
How are you supporting one another?
I think it’s important to accept how you’re feeling and keep open relationships with the people closest around you. Do not be afraid to tell someone how you’re feeling. I talk to my mom every day. I talk to my family a lot. I make more of an effort to communicate with my family, who all live in Missouri. As a former student-athlete, I think exercise is huge in this time because it can really help mentally put you in a better place during the day. We’ve been doing a lot of walks and home workouts. They took down our tennis net at our local tennis courts, so that was a little depressing (Haha)! So yeah, just trying to stay as positive as you can, communicating with people and being honest on how you feel.
How are you protecting yourself and your family?
I think one of the really good things is that all of our family is in Missouri. So when we come home we don’t have to worry about being tempted in seeing our family right now. Definitely keeping our distance from friends here in Tampa. As soon as we come home from work we put all of our clothes in the washer right away. We try to keep anything that was exposed at the hospital separate and clean as possible. If when we do go to the grocery store or anywhere in public, we are wearing masks and staying six feet away from others.
What keeps you motivated?
What motivates me is just doing whatever I can to help out the situation in my mind keeps me going. So I’m doing my part as a nurse, doing my part to try to stay positive and be some sort of light in such darkness in my patients’, coworkers’ and family’s lives. It’s a very dark time for all of us. So what keeps me motivated is just trying to stay positive and trying to find the silver lining during this hard time.
What does self-care look like when you are off work?
Definitely exercise. Going on walks and exercise daily has been very beneficial. My husband and I also like to play board games. We try to limit the television to only one episode a day of Netflix.
Once a week we do try to support a small business and order takeout. Which is also something to look forward to during the week.
And we also use the app Calm, so that’s been helpful to try to meditate and pray within a certain amount of time during the day to try to clear your mind.
What are some of the positives you are seeing out of all this?
I think seeing so many photos of what this is doing for the environment and how it’s hopefully going to reset mother nature in a way. My husband showed me a photo of air traffic in Europe a year ago compared to what it is now. There’s such a massive difference. So the effects on the environment I think is huge. Also, getting to know yourself better and understanding that we don’t need a lot in our lives. If you’re in a good place, you really don’t need all that much. And you really understand the importance of relationships that you have with people.
What are some ways the public can help those that are working on the front lines?
Number one is obviously stay home. I know it’s like the last thing everybody wants to hear, but really distancing yourself from everyone as much as possible. I think a great thing that we have here [Tampa] is a lot of small businesses like restaurants giving first responders discounts, which has been really cool because it’s a way to support local businesses and get a discount at the same time.
If you know someone that is in this position who actually has to go to work and put their self at risk, reaching out and saying that you are appreciative of them really does go a long way.
What would you like to say to those in your community who might be thinking of you and your profession during these trying times?
I just want to say thank you. I feel like we all are making such drastic changes and it is so uncomfortable at times, but this is only going to be temporary. So just keep fighting and keep an open mindset in this difficult unknown times.
Is there anything else you would want people to know, either about the pandemic or your profession?
KU, especially Kansas Athletics, really did prepare me so much for my career in nursing. I’m just so thankful to the university for everything that they did for me in my preparation. It’s just like one of the best moments of my life going to KU. I’m just so appreciative of Kansas.