COVID-19 patients value commitment to care during recovery

Danielle Burmeister, senior occupational therapist, helps COVID-19 patients recover both physically and emotionally.

When Senior Occupational Therapist Danielle Burmeister enters the room of a patient recovering from COVID-19, there's a peculiar calm. For the safety of others, there are no family visits, get-well balloons, or flowers.

"They are just happy to see someone," says Burmeister. "If I can be the person who helps them feel a bit better, I feel good about that."

Burmeister's role is to help patients with COVID-19 recover, both physically and emotionally. And her patients appreciate her presence.

Recently, one patient told her, "Thank you for being in this room with me and giving me your time and holding my hand. You are an angel for making me work to get stronger physically and mentally."

Recovery and regaining function

When she visits her patients at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, Burmeister helps them brush their teeth, comb their hair, and sit up on the side of their bed. She also works with them using cognitive and strength exercises.

"While we can provide great therapy here in the hospital with the help of the multidisciplinary team, it also takes a lot of work for patients when they go home as well," she says. "The good news is they are recovering and regaining function to return to life."

As an example of that, she remembers a patient who was hospitalized for more than six weeks. When he began treatment, he was confused and couldn't even move his hands or hold up his head.

The team worked with him on mobility, endurance, strength, delirium management, and cognitive tasks.

"When he left here, he was ambulating around the unit several times a day, getting himself dressed," she says. "He would talk and joke all day long with staff; his sense of humor definitely was back."

Strengthening mind and body

Burmeister created therapeutic practices with easy instructions so her patients can work on strength exercises on their own or at home. She also created isolation packets with instructions on how to maintain a good sleep cycle and how to combat depressing thoughts and feelings, with techniques such as keeping a gratitude journal. These instructional packets have been distributed to all units caring for patients with COVID-19.

Colleagues say that the care Burmeister has for her patients is evident in everything she does.

"I don't feel any different caring for these patients than any others," says Burmeister. "The biggest difference is that they can't see our faces or our smiles or even our name badges due to our protective gear, but I always introduce myself and give them a gentle touch on the arm or shoulder to let them know that I am there for them."

When she's not at work, Burmeister cares for her dog, Sadie, and keeps in touch with family, who are all social distancing at their own homes. Burmeister, who started working at UI Hospitals & Clinics in 2018, says that working on the frontlines is challenging but rewarding.

"Everything takes more time," she says of her work. "And there's added pressure to make sure you do everything right. But my goal is to just keep providing the best patient care I can."