Published July 3, 2020
Their friendship began during their time in the associate’s degree program in nursing at Niagara County Community College. They reconnected when they enrolled in UB’s School of Nursing. Then came COVID-19, and the intensity of working on the front lines at Buffalo General Medical Center forged a personal and professional bond that has grown into a life-changing relationship.
Tristan Lynn and Joseph Crane, both registered nurses on their way to earning bachelor’s degrees from UB, have seen the stark and dramatic scenes of COVID units. Their weeks on the floor at Buffalo General have been filled with “heartbreaking” tragedies and joyful recoveries.
Whatever has come their way, their friendship has brought them strength, encouragement, and even a light touch to relieve the pressure.
“Joe has been a great support to me during my nursing education and equally so as a co-worker,” says Lynn, 30, who grew up in Buffalo. “It helps to have a great friend with whom to experience this profession and these unprecedented medical scenarios during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Whether it’s asking questions, talking through moments of doubt or just expressing our gratefulness to have each other to rely on, Joe and I have grown close through our shared experiences.”
Crane, 30, who grew up in Niagara Falls, says he has been lucky to have known someone like Lynn since the beginning of their “nursing journey.” But working together through the virus has given their friendship an extra dimension.
“We know the struggles the other has been through,” says Crane. “We have shared both good and bad experiences. I always know I can go to Tristan when I am feeling frustrated and overwhelmed because I know she understands what I am going through. I am glad I have been able to be there for her as well.”
Both have their share of COVID-19 stories.
Lynn worked as a medical-surgical nurse on an ortho-neuro floor at Buffalo General. When the coronavirus struck, her floor was converted into a COVID-19 floor, presenting a different kind of nursing that she and her colleagues weren’t used to.
“We were mostly occupied with monitoring patients’ breathing and oxygen levels, processing new admissions, monitoring lab values and assessing new drug trials for efficacy,” Lynn says. “Part of the issue was the rapidity with which patients would have difficulty breathing, which made it a unique challenge to get them the oxygen they needed. There were more than a few emergency RAPID calls for patients who became acutely unstable with great speed.”
Sometimes numerous people in a household ended up in intensive care. “The patients in these cases were only able to get so much information,” she says. “Often, there were few updates about their loved ones. Some of my patients recovered, while others were not so lucky.”
Crane has worked at Buffalo General since July 2019. Since COVID-19, many things have changed. He floated numerous times to other units, including Lynn’s, often monitoring patients’ telemetry. The variety of cases he has seen the past few months has deeply affected him, both emotionally and in his patient-care strategy.
“There was one gentleman who had several co-morbidities and just couldn’t seem to test negative,” he says. “One morning he just let all of his feelings out to me. He cried as he told me his memories of being on the ventilator and that he could hear people saying he wasn’t going to make it. I did my best to hold back tears. It did not work.”
Crane has been disturbed watching how quickly things can go wrong for other COVID patients.
“I’ve watched people deteriorate significantly over a shift and end up in the ICU by the end of it,” he says. “One patient decompensated so bad that he had to be intubated in the room right there. It was insane to witness.”
But along with the tragedies came stories of recovery and healing.
“It was always a great feeling to watch these patients recover and be discharged,” Lynn says. “They were so excited to be back with their families, and equally as relieved to have made it through their illness and come out the other side.”
Both Lynn and Crane stress the ongoing need for PPE and other general supplies. Nurses constantly were running out of essentials and had to waste valuable time searching for them just to protect themselves and their patients.
“Our health care system needs to do more to support our nurses and make them a priority,” says Crane, “instead of making it seem like money is always at the top of the list.”
It’s not all doom and gloom, they say. Their close friendship gives them the opportunity for lightness through the highs and lows.
“We do get the occasional laugh in and get to celebrate,” Crane says. “I look forward to a nice dinner with her once things are fully calm to take a breath and say, ‘Wow, look at us, look at we’ve accomplished!’”