GREENWICH — Less than two months before the pandemic came to Greenwich in March 2020, Amanda Jagodzinski, a registered nurse in the emergency room at Greenwich Hospital, found out she was pregnant with her third child.
There was no possibility that she would sit out a pandemic. Like others who made heroic efforts during the early days of COVID-19, Jagodzinski took her place on the front lines, learning along with the rest of the country how to live with uncertainty.
“It was terrifying,” Jagodzinski said. “Every day at work you were learning new things. Some days they were telling us we needed to wear regular masks and the next day it was N-95 masks. One day patients needed to only go to negative pressure rooms and the next day we could put the patients in any room.
“Every day it was an evolving cycle. We didn’t know what could happen and if you got COVID when you were pregnant what could happen to us or the child. It was like nothing we ever experienced before,” she said recently.
Jagodzinski’s story is one of many that make up the book “Greenwich Hospital Emergency Department and COVID-19: Our Voices. Our stories. Our Journey” put out by Greenwich Hospital. The book contains personal essays, photographs, drawings and poems by frontline employees who worked in the Greenwich Hospital Emergency Department during the height of the pandemic two years ago.
The idea for the book came from Christopher Davison, the medical director for the Emergency Department, after he shared his own story with Spike Lipschutz, the vice president of medical affairs. The two decided a book of similar entries would showcase the heroic efforts of the Greenwich Hospital team.
“Stories offer the opportunity to share our voices with others, and have the potential to transform how we appreciate and experience life,” Lipschutz said. “The essays in this book are inspiring and enlightening, resonating with anyone whose life has been touched by the pandemic.”
The books have been popular. According to Magaly Olivero, media coordinator for Greenwich Hospital, the initial run of 500 hardcover books released at the end of March are largely gone. Another print run of 3,000 are on their way. Some of the stories will be shared on the hospital’s website.
Jagodzinski has been at Greenwich Hospital since 2008, starting out as a unit secretary in the Emergency Department who served as the “eyes and ears” of the unit to help “keep everything flowing,” she said. Now as nurse manager, she oversees 85 employees, including all the department’s nurses, techs and business associates.
Even with training in nursing school, Jagodzinski said that “nothing can prepare you” for having to respond to a pandemic. Jagodzinski called it “probably the most difficult six months of my life” because of the need to come in each day to work with a positive attitude regardless of circumstances.
“The only thing that got us through the day was helping each other and doing what we could,” Jagodzinski said. “We had to make sure we were there for each other and had each other’s backs …Those of us that are still here, I think, have a bond that we will look back at 10 and 15 years from now and remember that group of people we were with through this experience. It will be a friendship that’s not going to be like any other.”
Both Jagodzinski and her husband, Jimmy, are essential workers; her husband works for Aquarion Water Company.
Jagodzinski said providing childcare for their two sons, then-6 1/2-year-old Jimmy and then-4 1/2-year-old Danny, was a juggling act with two essential worker parents and no physical school because of the pandemic closures. Fortunately, she said, both she and her husband had parents in Greenwich.
She also credited Greenwich Hospital with giving her the flexibility she needed in her schedule to make it work and her co-workers who looked after her and two other nurses who were pregnant.
“Even though it was terrifying to come to work every day, there was almost like a sense of security,” Jagodzinski said. “Every time I came to work, my colleagues made sure I didn’t go into any patient rooms. They let me do my part from outside the rooms. I was the runner. I was coordinating with the families. I was making phone calls to the families.
“I was doing my part, just not giving direct patient care,” she said. “My colleagues made sure I was safe and out of harm’s way. Even if I wanted to go in a room, they wouldn’t let me. They were like, ‘there’s no way we’re letting you go in that room.’
“The level of compassion from my colleagues was unbelievable,” Jagodzinski said. “In the Emergency Department, we work very closely together but the level of compassion was unreal. They went above and beyond to make sure I was safe and my child was safe. They put themselves in harm’s way for me.”
But working every day at a hospital meant that Jagodzinski had more to worry about than the effects of the virus on herself and unborn child. Like other first responders, she worried about transmitting the virus to her family.
“I would come home and run inside upstairs and wouldn’t let anyone come near me or touch me until I had showered and got to cleanse myself,” Jagodzinski said. “It was hard. The first thing you want to do when you walk in the house is hug your kids and give them a kiss and ask them how their day was. Unfortunately that was not how it could go.”
On Aug. 28, 2020, Jagodzinski gave birth to her daughter, Gianna. The baby is healthy and happy.
She said it was a “huge sigh of relief” for her and her family because there was so much that was unknown about bringing a baby into the world during a pandemic.
“The level of joy and sweetness that she brought to our family is unimaginable and she really helped my husband and I and my children get through this hard time,” Jagodzinski said.
And she said she was grateful to have the chance to share her story in the book.
“Initially I was a bit hesitant,” Jagodzinski said. “I didn’t know if I was ready to share those emotions. Even now when I pick up the book and read the stories, I get emotional because the feelings are just so raw and you can see people’s true insecurities in the book.
“But I think 10 years from now, when this is a piece of history, we will have these stories to look back at and it’s going to be so, so special,” she said, “because we’ll remember how we supported each other and got through this together.”