Stephanie Watkins, the Maryland-based founder behind the popular design blog Casa Watkins Living, is known for her colorful interiors, fearless DIYs, and bold bohemian style. Her nearly 18,000 Instagram followers flock to her site for design advice, unbelievable room makeovers, and Watkins' sunny commentary, though over the past few weeks, she was quietly focused on another goal: returning to bedside nursing in the midst of a global pandemic.
"I felt a calling or a need to kind of get back in and help my community," Watkins tells MyDomaine. "There were a couple of things that drove my initial decision to return, but the need for nurses was at the top of my list."
For the past three and a half weeks, Watkins, a registered nurse, has been working three shifts a week at a local skilled nursing facility, caring for one of our most vulnerable populations, while she continues to juggle homeschooling her two youngest children with her husband, teaching nursing, and running her blog. While the facility has not had a COVID-19 outbreak, Watkins' job is to continuously screen and evaluate patients for the illness, set up a pathway to treatment if an outbreak were to occur, and handle the usual work of daily medications and care. As of mid-April, more than 21,000 residents and staff members at nursing care facilities across the country have contracted the virus, according to a report from The New York Times.
I felt a calling or a need to kind of get back in and help my community. There were a couple of things that drove my initial decision to return, but the need for nurses was at the top of my list.
"They've been struggling themselves with everything," Watkins says of the patients in her care. "Whereas we're isolated at home, they're isolated in their rooms, which is a big deal. They're not seeing their families, they're not seeing their friends. They're not even seeing people that they normally used to see in the building, so it's been a struggle to say the least."
She's not only noticing the physical decline of patients used to getting more regular exercise or physical therapy, but also the emotional toll of the pandemic.
"Taking the time to reach out to a senior or to reach out to that patient, making phone calls, keeping in touch with family whether they're in the hospital or not, it's just gonna be a tremendous benefit to them," Watkins says.
Her Journey to Nursing
Watkins has been a registered nurse for about 15 years, and first spent her time as a medical surgical nurse before earning her master's in nursing education. Though she has been teaching the subject for years, she left bedside nursing when her son was born 8 years ago, because as she puts it, "there's only so much you can do when you're nine months pregnant." Though she was no longer working with patients directly, she remained connected to the field through education.
"I've been very much still involved in nursing and being an educator has helped fill in those gaps," Watkins explains. "I missed bonding with patients. I missed being at the bedside and then all of this stuff happened."
Even more impressively, her desire to be a nurse started early, at the tender age of 5. As someone who struggles with a rare bleeding disorder, she was in and out of hospitals and emergency rooms as a child.
"I remember vividly one of the times that I was hospitalized; it was during Christmas," she recalls. "And to make things worse, I was in a military family, and we were overseas, so there was a language barrier."
Her nursing team in Germany bonded with her anyway, and made sure she had plenty of crafts to keep her distracted through treatment, sparking her love of art and design in the process.
"That was really what motivated me to get into nursing," Watkins says. "To give that back, to really bond with people and help them beyond the science. It was that partnership between the art and the science, that art of healing basically."
That was really what motivated me to get into nursing. To give that back, to really bond with people and help them beyond the science. It was that partnership between the art and the science, that art of healing basically
Working as a Nurse Now
Walking into her shifts the past few weeks, Watkins says she has felt "helpful and needed."
"It’s an unwavering feeling of being where I need to be," Watkins says. "There’s a joy I feel bonding with patients and having that relationship again. I’m always needed at home, but it’s a different type of need when it comes to nursing. I feel blessed being able to be there and helping those in need. I honestly feel fulfilled to be able to do something that makes an impact when the world is in need for so much healing."
Though she's ready and willing to walk into the work, her biggest fear, and the fear of many healthcare workers, is that they will somehow infect their families. She's been taking extra precautions like having certain clothes she only wears to work that she immediately throws in the wash when she comes home, taking a shower first thing when she finishes a shift, and making sure she doesn't track anything in on her shoes.
"That was something I struggled with myself is this need to give back versus taking care of my family," Watkins says. "What is best to do is to take extra precautions."
She recommends continuing to wash your hands, avoid touching your face, keeping a dedicated pair of shoes for running errands, and of course, social distancing.
Though it may seem like the last thing on our to-do list right now, taking care of ourselves is important during this time too. Watkins sees her design and DIY blog, which she started in 2015 while staying home with her newborns, as a way to stay connected to her creative, artistic side.
"It was a great way to keep a little bit of myself present when I was learning how to be a new mom and a new wife," Watkins says of her blog. "And just something that allowed me to remain Stephanie."
As someone who has needed a creative outlet before, Watkins considers now an ideal time to pick up a new hobby or craft, not only for your own sanity, but to help the cause as well.
"Not only does it give you something to focus on at home, but also does wonders to relieve stress and boost up self-esteem," Watkins says. "Donating DIY masks, sewing protective gowns, and sending handmade cards to seniors who haven’t seen family in weeks are all great ways to help."
How We Can Help
In our 24-hour news cycle, we have constant access to information about this pandemic, but that can also cause frequent anxiety.
"In some cases fear helps, but sometimes too much information creates this fear and then that fear becomes a barrier to bonding and just doing what we need to be doing," she explains.
Though frequent hand-washing and socially distancing can help with the physical toll of the virus, Watkins stresses that being kind and compassionate can ease the emotional strain.
"I just want to really emphasize making sure that we're keeping our humanity, and making pleasantries, and being courteous to one another because right now, it's a very stressful time for everybody," she says.
Whether it's waving to a neighbor when you go to pick up your mail from the mailbox or making sure to call friends and family, Watkins emphasizes the power of positivity and spreading love and compassion.
"I know people are losing their jobs and there's a lot of stress involved with that, and the kids being at home as well," Watkins says. "Just being extra nice and sharing that love and compassion for what everyone is going through just does so much good."
Coronavirus Outbreak at Virginia Nursing Home Spirals Out of Control as 45 Die. The New York Times. April 14, 2020.