For Lakewood nurse, combatting coronavirus is part of personal mission

Jessica Melba Mossbrucker can remember the moment she decided to become a nurse.

She was a teenager, and her grandfather had just passed away in the intensive care unit of Good Samaritan Hospital in Lafayette when a nurse came over and hugged her.

“Wow, nurses are really cool,” the 27-year-old Golden native thought in the moment.

The cruel irony for Mossbrucker, an ICU nurse at St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood, is she now cannot provide that same emotional support to her patients’ family. The harsh reality of COVID-19 won’t allow for it.

Those suffering from the virus must do so in isolation — quarantined in order to ensure they don’t spread it to others. That leaves nurses like Mossbrucker to give what comfort they can as loved ones communicate remotely.

“It’s very difficult emotionally,” Mossbrucker said, “because I can’t look a family member in the eye and explain to them what’s going on. … It is hard when I am talking to someone on the phone, to get across how much I am caring for their family member.”

Compassion has been a central part of Mossbrucker’s life, well before she became a nurse.

The summer after graduating from Arvada West High School in 2010, the then-18-year-old embarked on the first of five mission trips to the Mathare slums outside Nairobi, Kenya. Working with a nonprofit named The Inspiration Centre, she fostered relationships with children and others living in the slums while also participating in community projects to help improve conditions. It was an experience Mossbrucker said has impacted the rest of her life, and one she carries with her now as she serves in her home state.

Five years after her last mission trip, and after she graduated from Colorado Mesa University, her connection to Kenya remains as a benefactor for She Has a Name — a nonprofit operated by HEART of Junction church in Grand Junction that helps young prostitutes in Nairobi escape that life and return to school.

“(Going to Kenya) made me more compassionate for humans in general,” Mossbrucker said. “It has shaped my nursing, because I feel like I understand, if someone was to come from another country or just a different lifestyle than me, I feel like I can empathize with them a lot better. … My eyes were opened to how people live and that I can connect with them even though we live differently.”

As difficult as it would have been to grasp just one month ago, those connections have become increasingly tenuous as Mossbrucker and her colleagues in St. Anthony’s ICU confront the coronavirus.

The COVID patients she encounters are the sickest of the sick — those who require ventilators and around-the-clock care. Their conditions are subject to change at a moment’s notice. And when they do, Mossbrucker can address it only after she’s meticulously covered herself in personal protective equipment.

Thus, the challenge isn’t just combating a relatively unknown virus, but doing it in an environment in which she must also be hypervigilant about protecting herself and those she comes into contact with, including her own family.

“This is something that gives me extreme anxiety, because I would hate to bring it home to the family,” said Mossbrucker, who is married with three stepchildren. “That’s my biggest concern.

“So I take all of the precautions needed to try not to bring it in the house after a shift. I make sure I change my clothes, change my shoes (before leaving the hospital). I instantly get in the shower (at home). I try to keep my distance, but it’s a little hard with the kids.”

Harder still when her regular day-care service, Mossbrucker’s 57-year-old mother, is isolating in her own Arvada home.

Mossbrucker and her husband, Alex, have rearranged their schedules so that someone can be home with Keely, 9; Sam, 7; and Elizabeth, 3. It helps that she works the night shift (6:45 p.m. to 7:30 a.m.) three times a week. But like everyone else these days, nothing comes easy.

That scrambling effort is the new normal for Mossbrucker, who finds herself working alongside nurses pulled away from their regular duties to meet the growing demands of the COVID crisis. Whether it’s ICU nurses like herself, PACU nurses, designated cardiac nurses or medical professionals from other areas of the trauma hospital, all of them are coming together to take care of those patients.

“What impresses me the most is that they are doing it with such ease, and that’s how I know that I have the best talent on my team,” said Jenny Choi, Mossbrucker’s manager who oversees a pool of 90 nurses at St. Anthony. “We have people willing to help out in every single department, whether it’s coming to help with supplies, just anything that anybody can do. It’s just been a whole team approach as far as getting these patients taken care of. This is not our norm, so we had to reach out to get extra help.”

That, of course, includes Mossbrucker, who in just her fifth year in the profession finds herself navigating what may end up being the biggest health crisis of her career.

It may not have been what she envisioned more than a decade ago when that nurse at Good Samaritan embraced her amid the grief of losing her grandfather. But it is what she signed up for.

“Taking care of people in general and using my critical thinking skills and to meet people where they are most vulnerable in life… that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.

“I knew that it was going to come with scary moments. I never thought of a pandemic, but I knew that I would be exposed to scary things. I don’t necessarily feel like a hero, I just feel like a person who’s doing my job.”

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