Lynn nurse Nicole Branzell is urging the public to remain vigilant about mask-wearing and other restrictions. (Spenser Hasak)

BY GAYLA CAWLEY| July 16, 2020, Lynn Daily Item

LYNN — After helping a family connect through FaceTime for the final time before two of their members died from the coronavirus, a Lynn nurse is urging the public to remain vigilant about wearing masks and adhering to other restrictions.

As a veteran nurse, Nicole Branzell, 45, is used to seeing death, but she has been astounded by how quickly people have been dying from COVID-19 over the past several months.

Two of those recent deaths were especially personal for Branzell, a Revere resident who has worked for All Care VNA, Hospice & Home Care in Lynn for the last decade.

In May, Branzell received a phone call from the daughter and son of one of her long-time patients, who informed her that her patient’s husband had contracted the virus and was approaching death in the Intensive Care Unit at Winchester Hospital.

“He got sick, went to the hospital and it’s so sad,” said Branzell. “They had no way of seeing their mom because of COVID, because they were exposed to their father.”

Having treated the man’s wife off and on for the entirety of her time at All Care, Branzell didn’t hesitate when she got the call.

“I ran out of the office, drove to her husband, and had the daughter coordinate with a Winchester ICU nurse so we could FaceTime,” said Branzell. “The saddest thing was the wife, my patient, didn’t know how bad he was, but she was able to see him and talk to him in the ICU.

“The ICU nurses did such a great job. I think it (gave) her some peace.”
The news that her patient’s husband had contracted the virus was especially worrisome, because Branzell’s patient was immunocompromised and suffered from multiple health issues.

Branzell and All Care staff then put her patient on a 14-day precautionary quarantine, where she was monitored for virus symptoms. Unfortunately, on the final day, Branzell received a call that the woman had started to exhibit symptoms and had to be hospitalized in Winchester.

The woman, who Branzell described as a vibrant, well put together and social person, fought a long battle, but ultimately died from the virus earlier this month.

It’s a sad ending to what Branzell described as one of the greatest love stories she’s ever seen. The couple, both in their 90s, had been married for at least 50 years, and part of their last FaceTime conversation is forever burned in Branzell’s brain.

“She said: Godspeed my love, I will see you soon,” Branzell recalls.

While the virus takes a large toll on healthcare workers, Branzell said that recent experience is an example of how devastating it can be for the families of patients who contract COVID-19.

Not only was their father dying, but the son and daughter would not be able to see their mother because of their exposure.

“I literally ran out of the office to get there,” said Branzell. “To hear that anxiety in a daughter’s voice — it was a sense of urgency and despair.”
Branzell admits that increased stress from COVID-19 can take its toll, noting that some days are tougher than others, but said that as a nurse, “this is what I signed up for.”
Days are often long and earlier in the outbreak, Branzell got into the habit of carrying around cases of toilet paper and paper towels in her car, in case some of her homebound patients were in need of the supplies.

Although virus cases have been on the decline in the past several weeks, Branzell urges people to remain vigilant, as she has seen how devastating the virus can be as a nurse on the front lines.

In this family’s case, her patient’s husband was homebound and still contracted the virus.
“Nurses are used to seeing death, but that amount of death so quickly, you start to lose count of how many you’ve actually lost,” said Branzell. “When you actually have time to sit and think, you’re like, wow.

“Wearing the mask is essential right now. I’ve been out in the field seeing COVID patients the entire time and I have not contracted it. That tells me my technique and wearing PPE has protected me.”