Front-line Faces: Making a difference keeps MICU nurse going during COVID-19

August 10, 2020
Florence nurse Alechia Broughton
Nurse Alechia Broughton says treating COVID-19 patients is unlike anything she's ever experienced. Photo by John Russell

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of stories focusing on MUSC Health front-line workers who are providing medical care and support to patients with COVID-19. 

In the medical intensive care unit at MUSC Health Florence Medical Center on any given day, you’ll hear machines making beeps or chirps in addition to the sound of ventilators keeping people alive and hopefully recovering from COVID-19. If you listen very carefully, you might hear an articulate, soft-spoken, motherly voice, too. 

Chances are this warm, bubbly, confident voice belongs to registered nurse Alechia Broughton as she goes about caring for her COVID-19 patients. She speaks from experience that comes not only from her time in the medical profession but also her life.

At 51, Broughton graduated from Greenville Technical College as a registered nurse. Some people would be planning for retirement, but not her. 

“I decided to go back to school late in life because what I was doing was not beneficial for anyone but me,” Broughton, now 60 years old, said. “I wanted to be a servant for somebody. I made up my mind to quit what I was doing and go to nursing school.”

Previously, she worked as a Christian school secretary in Atlanta, before her husband’s job brought them to Greenville. Some life experiences, including losing her brother to cancer, helped form her decision to be a nurse and help people. 

“I want to make a difference in someone’s life. Small steps are a success, and if someone is doing a little bit better today than they were yesterday, it’s worth it,” she said. “My co-workers and I have lots of victories, and that’s nice. We rejoice and dance around when someone does well and is able to leave our unit. We also cry with the families for the ones that don’t recover.”

One patient of hers sticks in her mind as a victory, and she draws strength from the experience. 

“We had a young fellow (in his 30s) with COVID. We honestly weren’t sure if he would survive. He was with us for a good while. Eventually he got better and off the ventilator and discharged. It was great! It was a victory because we really were doubtful he was going to live, and he did. So, when we have bad days and we don’t think we’re helping people, we think back to him and his victory,” said Broughton. 

Make no bones about it — Broughton said treating COVID patients is unlike anything she has ever experienced. As a front-line worker, she takes care of the sickest COVID-19 patients. She spends her days diligently monitoring them in the MICU. Until COVID-19 came around, Broughton took care of a wider range of patients with other medical issues. Now, she exclusively works with COVID-positive patients. She has learned to be an active learner as treatments, medications and other processes evolve in treating these patients. Broughton said it’s important that she talk to her patients as if they were conscious, telling them everything she is doing for them and what’s going on. 

“What we are doing now is not at all like what we did in the beginning. We didn’t know a lot at the beginning, but as we’ve learned more, and more information is available and more treatment options, we change what we do to make patients better. I never learned any of this in nursing school. I think everyone, no matter where you are, is learning right now,” she said.

“I don’t think anyone expected it to get to this point, and I really feel like it will be this way for a while,” she added. “I know I have to prepare myself mentally that this may never be ‘over,’ and it could very well be our new normal.”

When not working, Broughton relaxes by spending time with her husband, five children and seven grandchildren. She is happy with the decision she made almost a decade ago to be a nurse. 

“I want to make sure all my co-workers know they are making a difference. They may not see it or acknowledge it but, ultimately, at the end of the day when you lay your head on the pillow at night, you know you did something good."

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