~By Sharon Czerwien and Regina Stout, RN
I was recently blessed to hear from Regina (Gina) Stout, RN, at a ladies’ camp at Camp Tadmor. She was on the panel of guest speakers, and I was greatly touched by what she shared with the ladies during that weekend retreat.
During the panel discussions, she shared about her time as a nurse during the heart of COVID-19, and I loved hearing her stories about how she was upheld by God during her extremely bumpy sets of circumstances!
These types of testimonies always touch my heart, and I was excited that she agreed to be interviewed for this blog.
Here is the interview with Gina in its entirety. I love her testimony about how God showed up in her life during those intense days.
You have worked in healthcare for more than twenty years. Can you share what roles you have had in the healthcare world?
I started as a volunteer when I was 15. I became a CNA (certified nursing assistant) when I was 16 and worked in home health, outpatient surgery, and inpatient orthopedics and neurology. I became a nurse in 2005 and have worked primarily in the Emergency Department and in Critical Care. But I've also done smaller stints in the recovery room, urgent care, outpatient procedures, pediatrics, and oncology.
2. What are some of the major stresses of working in the emergency department?
The hardest part for me has always been seeing the lack of resources for people in need. I was appalled the first time I was ever asked to discharge a teenager to the streets. But there was nowhere else to send him... and nowhere else he wanted to go. There is not an adequate infrastructure in our country to support teenagers who are houseless and who struggle with mental health conditions. Children with psychiatric needs get stuck in the ED if they aren't safe to discharge home. They often stay there for days or even weeks, waiting for inpatient rooms at pediatric facilities. During these days they are exposed to the trauma and violence that is part of the daily climate in the ED. While I worked there, I had a front seat to the broken places in foster care, law enforcement, narcotic addiction, domestic abuse, and so many other societal harms that created cycles of dysfunction. There was also the baseline secondary trauma that we experienced as healthcare workers. Twenty-four hours a day, the ED doors are open, and in comes stories of accidents, premature death, violence - often self-directed, abuse, rape, and so many other things you just hope you can someday forget.
3. Can you share with the readers what were the most stressful aspects of working as an ED nurse when COVID-19 first struck in here in America? Also, how was your family impacted during the heart of the pandemic?
One of the most stressful aspects of working in the ED during the pandemic, for me, was watching the toll it took on my fellow healthcare workers. I saw the brilliant, resourceful, and resilient people I worked beside become disheartened, fatigued and embittered by the political climate, poor staffing, lack of necessary resources, and decreased morale. I saw co-workers get divorced, rely on alcohol, leave their families, and I saw some of the best clinicians I know leave the jobs they were so gifted at.
It was a stressful time for my family. My husband, also in healthcare, works in elective surgery and was laid off for about 6 weeks. He is a really smart guy and is pretty used to being able to figure things out. All of the misinformation and ambiguity around the pandemic and healthcare was a lot for him. My children went to school at home and were quite fearful for a while, as we tried to sort out how bad things were going to be. It was a sweet time in our family of having really hard conversations on the daily. Like many children around the world, they all grew up a bit too much that year!
4. In your darkest and "bumpiest" moments of being a nurse, wife, and mother during COVID-19, what stabilized you the most? How did your faith play a vital role?
There were two things that really gave me strength during these few years. One was the faithful encouragement and support of a few Godly mentors who prayed for me and checked in on me regularly. Until this time in my life, I hadn't experienced that kind of support, and God knew that I needed those trusted few believers. During this time, I also leaned heavily on who I knew God to be. I didn't have the capacity or time to do deep theological studies or even show up to church (well, many of us couldn't). But the simple and sweet love of Jesus reached me through His mercy and kindness. I focused on His omniscience, when I couldn't understand. I focused on His strength when I lacked my own. I focused on His Glory and purity when everything around me seemed dark and evil. Focusing on the track record of the Perfect King steadied my soul in a way that nothing else could. I'm not saying I was unshaken, but I honestly believe that His goodness was chasing after me.
Psalm 94:18-19 says "When I said, "My foot is slipping," your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy." I am confident that God is glorified when we focus on His goodness and faithfulness, even when so many other things claim our attention. And when He is glorified, His peace rests on us.
5. When I heard you speak at the recent ladies’ camp, you mentioned a few interesting ideas. Do you mind sharing with the readers about your "practice of gratitude" and some information you gave about the book of prayer ideas?
During the last few years (again - like many), I experienced more trauma and strain than I had capacity to hold. When I think about this time, I liken my state of mind to the black and white static on an old television. There was no clarity, and there was so much noise everywhere. It felt like I was treading water in a storm, and I kept trying to do the things we are all told to do as believers. But I was finding it difficult to focus on the words on the pages of scripture. I couldn't keep my heart and mind focused during prayer. I didn't feel like there was anyone to talk to because my situation was unique, and it seemed like every other soul I knew was overwhelmed and breaking. At the time, I had a mentor who asked me a very insightful question. He said, "There is so much you can't do right now, Gina. What CAN you do?" A few things came from that question. First of all, I knew I didn't have to do anything to earn God's love, presence, or kindness. Nevertheless, I did want to honor Him. I did want the comfort of His presence and the hope of His redemption in the brokenness I was experiencing. So, I thought about what I could do to draw near to Him.
James 4:8 says, "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you." The ways that I found to draw near to God during that season weren't typical for me, but again - God drew near. I found a prayer book written by Scott Erikson and Justin McRoberts. When the book was open, one page was a short prayer and on the other a piece of art in the form of contemplative imagery. I decided I would open this book each day and if my mind couldn't hold a thought, I would offer prayers spurred on by the image I saw.
I also found comfort in music during this time, especially worship music that expressed gratitude. Some lyrics that spoke to me directly were these, by Brandon Lake:
"So I throw up my hands and praise you again and again.
'Cause all that I have is a hallelujah.
And I know it's not much, but I've nothing else fit for a King.
Except for a heart singing hallelujah..."
We have this idea in Western culture that we need to go to Jesus with our lives already straightened. We feel like we need our sin cleansed, our habits already adjusted, our words articulate, our minds clear... when really Jesus wants us even when we are battle worn, broken, and flailing. You see, it isn't our state of mind or our confidence we should be focused on when we are at the feet of Christ - it is Him and only Him! We may have utterly nothing to give Jesus, except a "thank you" and a "hallelujah," and that is enough!
In Psalm 38:13-15, David cries out to the Lord saying, "I am like the deaf, who cannot hear, like the mute, who cannot speak; I have become like one who does not hear, whose mouth can offer no reply. Lord, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord My God.”
Waiting on the Lord and accepting His mercy during my dark season was my lifeline. And He showed up!
Thank you, Gina, for this precious testimony of your reliance on God’s strength during your heavy trials!
May God be praised,
**Gina Stout is the founder of Anchor and Aim Coaching and Consulting, where she provides evidence based and impact driven solutions for healthier work. You can find more about Gina on her website.