ST. LOUIS – As a countless number of healthcare professionals put their lives on the line in the fight against COVID-19, the reality of the deadly virus becomes even greater when they contract it themselves.
That’s the life lesson taken away from COVID for BJC ICU nurse Michele Gatzert. She said it could be described one way.
“Life-changing and a whole new appreciation and gratitude for life,” she said.
Gatzert is part of a special team that prepared for a global pandemic when the coronavirus came abruptly and hit even closer than she could have imagine. The nurse says it took just one time in a gas station for COVID-19 to affect her life and leave her with severe symptoms.
“By the third day, I was in the emergency room,” the nurse said. “I had 104 fever, crushing bone pain, muscle aches, very hard to breathe. I fought for every breath I could take.”
The ICU nurse admits even with her 20 years of ICU experience and the help from her husband, there was moments she thought her time would be coming to an end.
“There was a couple days where I didn’t think I was going to make it,” she said emotionally. “I came very close.”
Then, images like these popped into her mind – the selflessness of her colleagues, the impact they’ve had on patients in recovery and their last days, and the passion that lives deep inside her to help the St. Louis community when it needed her the most.
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else or with any other group of people,” Gatzert said.
After 40 days in isolation, Gatzert is back in the ICU doing what she loves the most – saving people’s lives.
With over 200,000 people dying from COVID-19 in the US alone, the ICU nurse is hopeful her own story could be a reality check for the community to wear a mask and social distance.
“Be safe for yourself and be safe for the people in your life that you love,” she said. “Protect yourself. You have one life and it should be made special.”