Finding purpose in a pandemic

Critical care gives Amanda Chilton a chance to shine

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The patient was experiencing shortness of breath, but he had come into the emergency room still able to speak.

Then, all of a sudden, he was slipping in and out of consciousness. It all felt like a dream. But somewhere in that dream, he knew Amanda Chilton would do whatever it took to save him. He could see it in her eyes.

That’s what the patient told Chilton 10 days later when he had finally beaten COVID-19.

She and other critical care nurses at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center had poured all of their resources into caring for the patient, all while covered head-to-toe in personal protective equipment. In a time when families can’t visit their loved ones, it was the only human contact the patient had.

“These patients don’t know us,” Chilton said. “If they’re awake, all they can see is your eyes. You just hope and pray that God gives you the kindest, most gentle, comforting eyes possible in those moments.”

It was a hunger for that connection that inspired Chilton to become a nurse in 2012. Back then, Chilton, a native of Pilot Mountain, North Carolina, was working for a bank but she was wanting to find more purpose in life and fulfill her calling.

“I didn’t want to work with numbers anymore,” Chilton said. “I wanted something that put me in more of a personal relationship with people.”

So Chilton left the corporate world and enrolled in nursing school at Forsyth Tech Community College. While earning her associate’s degree, she completed her clinical rotations at Novant Health. At first, she was nervous because she didn’t know what she wanted to specialize in. Then she was placed in the Intensive Care Unit. She loved it. 

“I drew a really lucky break there because most nursing students don’t get to pull a 12-week clinical in critical care,” Chilton said. “By the second week, I was in my now-manager’s office asking her for a job.”

Six years later, Chilton still maintains that passion for the ICU.

“Critical care is organized chaos, and that’s pretty much where my personality thrives,” she said.

The chaos grew by leaps and bounds with the onset of COVID-19. Patients flooded in, and staff rushed to adapt. Chilton’s day-to-day routine was transformed practically overnight.

“The next day, I felt like I was standing on my own feet but didn’t really know where to go,” Amanda said. “Things were so different.”

But the team worked together to find a better workflow.

“You just learn as you go and tap into your support system as much as you can to help each other get through the day,” she said.

Even at home, Chilton has had to stay vigilant about preventing the spread of coronavirus. Chilton is married with four children, one of whom is immune-compromised. She takes extra precautions to avoid bringing the virus home with her. She wipes down her steering wheel, places her clothes in a designated place before she walks into her home and immediately takes a shower. At times, she’s had to balance this need for safety with the emotional needs of raising a family.

“It’s been hard, especially the first couple weeks, because there was so much unknown,” Chilton said. “I just wanted to make sure I was being careful. I would read my kids bedtime stories outside their bedroom door, and I wasn’t really hugging or kissing them goodnight. That was really hard.”

But her children have been resilient. She’s taken them to visit their grandparents, who stay on the porch while the kids play in the yard at a safe distance. And she’s been upfront and honest with them about the virus.

“I just keep encouraging them to talk to me about anything that bothers them because I don’t want them to bottle that up and be scared of something they don’t understand,” Chilton said. “I think having open lines of communication and giving them the platform to ask questions has really helped.”

The community has been another lifeline during the crisis. Chilton noted that a group called Pilot Mountain Helping Hands has come together to support the medical professionals at Forsyth Medical Center.

“I had to make three trips to my car to bring in all the things they had donated to us,” Chilton said. “It was incredible. They had made little snack kits because they knew we didn’t have a lot of time to eat. They had put stuff in there that was nutritious and quick.”

Chilton has been excited to see so many people unite for the purpose of helping others. Although the pandemic has been difficult and she’s shed some tears along the way, she is invigorated by what she considers her calling. In Chilton’s eyes, the coronavirus has given way to a new way of nursing, in which healthcare workers have added even more heart to their profession.

“I feel like I’ve seen that reach into our community, and I really hope that it continues,” she said.

These days, Chilton is feeling grateful, for the hard work of her team and for the support she’s felt from day one.

“I’m very thankful for an organization like Novant Health that has gone above and beyond to make sure we’re protected with proper gear and we’ve been fed,” she said. “Even though times are scary, I feel very supported. It’s been wonderful to see people come together.”

Now, you have a chance to join the effort.

The Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund) supports team members on the front lines of our fight against the pandemic. Be a part of our success story and give today.

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