‘I knew we had a lot. But, that’s a lot,’ Covenant Health nurse reflects on administering COVID-19 vaccine to coworkers

COVID-19 Vaccine

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — With every person waiting in line to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, there is a healthcare worker providing it.

At Covenant Health, Elisabeth Torrente, a registered nurse working mainly out of Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, is one of those people.

This is how her day starts:

“I get up at 3 a.m. to get ready and be here (Fort Sanders) or whichever site I am going to that day; be there around 5 o’clock or 5:15 if it’s a 6 a.m. vaccine clinic,” Torrente said.

Sometimes she has clinics at 4 p.m.

Torrente said she arrives to work early to prepare for the clinics.

That includes getting all the paperwork ready for those she’ll be vaccinating that day.

“It’s also, you know, opening up syringes, making sure our little stations for giving vaccinations have gloves, and hand sanitizer, and alcohol preps, and all those things that we need,” Torrente said.

Before the pandemic, Torrente’s main job was in the labor and delivery department. She is also the education coordinator for all of women’s services at Fort Sanders.

Of course, like many people, her daily duties looked different after the pandemic.

Now, most of her days include vaccination clinics.

“It could be 30 people, it could be over 700. It just depends on where you are that day,” Torrente said.

Torrente never thought she would constantly be administering vaccinations, let alone see a pandemic in her lifetime. But, she knew she had to help in some way.

“Then, once the vaccines came out, it was like, ‘sign me up. I want to be able to do something. Sign me up,” Torrente said.

Torrente said she’s been administering vaccinations to her fellow coworkers since Dec. 18, the day after Covenant Health started its vaccination rollout.

She’s had some weekends off.

Although the job is tiresome, she and her coworkers, like her partner-in-crime Malissa Mocsari, have fun traveling to different facilities and meeting new Covenant Health employees.

“It’s high energy, we’re excited, we were giving these vaccines, we’re having fun. Sometimes we’re playing music, or you know, that fun atmosphere. Afterwards, I’m tired,” Torrente said.

Torrente said she knew she was doing an important job, but just how important just hit her recently.

“It’s an honor to be a part of this team, to have been invited; to go up and be able to do this, and not just be able to do this at my facility, but also go to another facility and meet other people who are in Covenant Health and to see that we all have that same vision where we want to protect all of our healthcare people,” Torrente said.

Torrente said a lot of tears have been shed during the different clinics, but they were tears of hope.

She’s gotten to hear several personal stories from those she’s vaccinating.

“Whether they’d have COVID, or a loved one has had COVID, or I’ve had several that maybe lost a family member; a parent or spouse; and for them to say things like, ‘I wish this could have come sooner.’ I said, ‘me too, but it’s here now,'” Torrente said.

She said the hope really came after coworkers were coming back for their second shots.

“There were high fives involved. Like ‘yep, you’re done. You’ve got this,'” Torrente said.

Torrente said even after the second shot, healthcare workers are wearing their PPE and often washing their hands.

That won’t change for a while.

Torrente said that on Wednesday, Covenant Health celebrated its 101st COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

She wasn’t part of all of those; she’s on a vaccination task force that hosts clinics for all nine Covenant Health hospitals in East Tennessee.

She said Debbi Honey, Chief Nursing Officer for Covenant Health, really deserves credit for the clinics they’ve held.

Torrente said she knows many people in the general public are still waiting to receive even their first shot of the vaccine.

For those, she asks for patience.

She said it’s like being on a plane when the flight attendant advises passengers in a case of an emergency, put on your oxygen mask first before helping others.

“So we gotta get all of our oxygen masks on our healthcare people so then we can get it out to the general public,” Torrente said.

In the meantime, Torrente said everyone should continue wearing their masks, washing their hands often, social distance and stay home if you’re sick.

She’ll continue to help vaccinate the 11,000 employees of Covenant Health.

“We’ve done a lot of clinics over the past month. So, yeah I’m tired, but let me tell you the alarm goes off, I get up. I make my coffee. And I go,” Torrente said.

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