On the Front Line

USD alumna nn Lawani ‘18 (MSN), a COVID nurse, with hand on hip in scrubs


Ann Lawani ‘18 (MSN) is the kind of nurse you want caring for you when you’re sick. She’s compassionate, she’s knowledgeable and she understands the pain of personal loss.

“My undergrad was in healthcare administration,” Lawani says. “Right after graduation, my brother passed away. And in my mother’s grief, she remembered the nurses who took care of him. I wanted to be that person for others. That’s what motivated me to go into nursing.”

Lawani graduated from USD’s Master’s Entry Program in Nursing (MEPN) and worked for Sharp Memorial Hospital in cardio-pulmonary nursing until the pandemic hit. Then she pivoted to become a COVID nurse.

Because of her skills and compassion, she was recently promoted to lead clinical nurse on the COVID unit at Sharp Coronado. She’s also currently working toward her PhD. Her doctoral research focuses on palliative care and helping patients plan for a dignified end-of-life.

Of course, Lawani never expected to face a global pandemic so early in her nursing career. In doing so, she has learned there are only so many hours in a day. “My professors have been really supportive and encouraging, because they know the situation I’m in now.”

She also finds it helpful to meditate, journal and pray.

“Sometimes it’s about coming home and just crying in the shower, and that’s what I need that day,” she says. Unfortunately, for Lawani and her health- care colleagues, those days have become more frequent.

“I think the energy we had as nurses when the pandemic started, we don’t have quite as much of that energy anymore. It’s been rough. We’re emotionally exhausted.” And like all hospitals, those in the Sharp HealthCare system face a serious shortage, and not just of dwindling ICU beds.

“It’s one thing not to have ICU beds,” she points out. “It’s another not to have enough staff. We’re severely short- staffed now because we can’t get travel nurses. They go to hotspots, but now, the hotspot is everywhere, so there is a shortage of nurses.”

Unfortunately, Lawani does not see an end to that problem in the near future.

“I foresee that a lot of nurses are going to change professions. We’re already exhausted, we’re burned out and we’re starting to take it personally when we’re trying to put a patient on BIPAP (Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure) and they die — even on BI- PAP, even on that much oxygen, the patient passes away.”

Lawani knows that patient death is a part of being a nurse, but not at the levels she’s seen since March 2020. She recently had a patient who was near death and wanted to speak to his granddaughter. The patient only spoke Japanese and his granddaughter was in Japan.

Lawani enlisted help from others so her patient could say goodbye, warning the grand- daughter that the conversation would be very brief.

“She said, ‘OK, I just want to tell him I love him, and I want to hear him say it back.’ So we did that. I took [his] mask off and tilted it to the side where he could still get some oxygen.” Lawani’s patient was able to say a few words, then she put the oxygen mask back on. He passed away a few moments later.

“It becomes personal,” she said. “When I leave work and I see people without masks and I see people packed together at parties, it breaks my heart.”

She worries about all of her patients. She’s seen perfectly healthy people contract COVID-19 and end up in the ICU on a ventilator. Some will not survive. Some will. And those who do often suffer from the effects of the virus long after discharge.

“I’ve seen what COVID can do to a body,” she says. “It slowly destroys your lungs. It feels like you can’t breathe. A patient said to me, ‘I feel like I’m drowning. I feel like I’m in the water and I can’t breathe. It feels like I’m underwater.’ That’s what it feels like.”

Despite all the sadness and exhaustion, Lawani says her patients inspire her.

“They’ve given me the spirit of resilience. I always knew that I was resilient, but it’s a new version of me that I didn’t know was in there. I’m sure it’s the same for most nurses. Even though I’m physically and emotionally exhausted. I want to go back to work. I want to give my best. There’s a joy in me when a patient goes from ICU to being discharged.” — Carol Scimone

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