“I was drowning:” Tiannuah Laidler’s challenging start as a nurse in the pandemic

Tiannuah Laidler stepped in a puddle of blood as she walked into the room in Mount Sinai Hospital’s COVID unit. Her heart pounded and she breathed heavily as she gazed at the elderly patient sitting on the bed coughing it up. 

She focused on remaining physically composed before calling for a rapid response from her team members. Her mind went a million miles a minute as – just 12 months after starting work as a registered nurse — she realized this virus was much bigger than she had anticipated.

“I was drowning,” she said. “Imagine having a year of experience as a nurse and dealing with a virus that everybody saw as a monster, I was freaking out.”

At 22 years old, Laidler had an extensive amount of knowledge but little hands-on experience. Soon, though, she grew accustomed to wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and an N95 mask. The mental strain of the pandemic lived long past 2020.

During the pandemic, the nursing field faced a shortage as nurses began to quit and turned to travel nursing, which can pay a higher hourly rate. Burn out and high-stress levels became normal. A survey by the International Council of Nurses in December 2020 showed 90 percent of nurses associations were “concerned that heavy workloads, burnout, and stress were factors for the growing … shortages.”

Laidler was born and raised in Miami. She was introduced to the healthcare field at a young age. Many of her family members were in the nursing profession. 

“I got to see how reliable health care is,” she said. “If I can’t find a job here I can go somewhere else and find one.”

As a young African American woman, she began to see a difference in the treatment her family members were receiving. This led her to pursue the nursing field and try to make change.

“When you see the way minorities get treated versus other races, it upsets you,” she said. 

As the years passed, Laidler’s aspirations became higher, and she joined the program known as Future Health Professionals (HOSA) at Miami Lakes Educational Center’s healthcare academy. 

In 2015, she began studying for her nursing degree at Miami-Dade College. 

During her clinical hours, she was only allowed to watch and shadow nurses as they inserted IV’s, documented patient records and performed CPR.

Her experience allowed for a smooth transition and she graduated with her nursing degree from Miami Dade at age 21 in 2019.

After obtaining her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2019, she studied for and passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), which  allowed her to practice. 

Two months later, Laidler was a licensed registered nurse at Mount Sinai in Miami Beach. She realized that watching nurses insert IV’s and actually doing it are very different. She learned how to deal with different personalities and trust her judgment. Above all, she began to cope with the mental strain that came along with saving lives.

“My first year as a nurse before COVID was fine,” she said. “Normal mentally-taxing new grad nurse. By that, I mean you cry because you don’t know what you are doing, it’s a lot of pressure and you are dealing with people’s lives.”

In 2020, when the pandemic struck, Laidler ’s career took a 360. Suddenly, co-workers began to quit and the nursing field felt a strain. Patient-to-nurse ratios were high along with stress levels. 

Instead of working at her usual Intermediate Care Unit (IMCU) floor, Laidler was sent to the COVID unit – for the first time- and was assigned the task of being charge nurse. As a charge nurse, she was responsible for the unit and answered to emergencies on the floor. 

“It wasn’t that I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said. “I was scared because of how everybody was talking about how lethal COVID was.”

In March 2020, her world was turned upside down. Her patients had severe symptoms and the night seemed never ending. Walking into a room with a case of severe diarrhea, multiple times in her shift and trying to keep everything in place, was a stressful situation. 

She recalls it being mentally, physically and emotionally stressful having COVID precautions and scheduled family meetings through ZOOM.

She began to suffer from pre-shift anxiety due to the constant worry of being sent to the COVID unit or any other floor.

“It felt like I could never escape COVID,” she said. “At work I’m dealing with it, and then I go home and I’m still dealing with it.  I was actually mentally a mess. In order to calm down I had to call my mother.”

Her family members lived in a state of worry as Laidler was constantly working on the COVID floor. 

“I was afraid every single day… people were passing away very quickly, so I was very worried but at the same time I know that she was helping people and saving lives,” Mildrenne Accius, her mother, said. “She is a very strong individual because I don’t know how I would have reacted if I had to see some of the things that she has seen with COVID.”

As the COVID waves came and left, Laidler continued to battle her mental state and passion to help people. Going out for brunch with her co-workers and watching Korean dramas helped her keep her mind at ease. She was able to disconnect from the gruesome world she was constantly exposed to.

“As a child, Tiannuah was the sort to lead and teach,” Lane’a Laidler, her sister, said. “She would not only share her knowledge, but she would seek it out explicitly to aid and care for others.”

While her nursing career continues, COVID remains a part of her. Like everything, life must go on and now more than ever, she has learned to appreciate life’s simple pleasures. 

“COVID has forever changed me,” she said. “I just hope we never see anything like it again.”

Janetssy Lugo is a student at Florida International University majoring in digital journalism. She loves reading, baking and listening to Bad Bunny. Working at a radio station is one of her goals as well as traveling the world.

Vanessa Garcia is a senior at FIU majoring in Digital Broadcasting with a concentration in English. Her hobbies include singing, making videos, writing, and reading. After graduation, she aspires to become an entertainment host/personality or radio personality. She hopes to leave a mark in the entertainment industry and inspire others along the way.