A great many graduates of Viterbo’s nursing programs are on the front lines of the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. That might be scary for those nurses and those who love them, but it’s good news for patients.
“There’s something special about a Viterbo nurse,” said Katie Drury ’08, who earned her nursing degree from Viterbo like her mother before her. “It’s not that the education is different. It’s the ethical practices, it’s the values and beliefs that make them different.”
Drury should know. Not only did she earn her nursing degree at Viterbo, she taught in the university’s nursing program for three years before starting her current job two years ago as director of nursing for the Onalaska School District.
Years from now, a multitude of Viterbo nursing grads will be able to tell their kids and grandkids about treating patients in the 2020 pandemic. Drury will have a different story to tell. She was one of the unfortunate souls to contract COVID-19, the seventh confirmed case in La Crosse County.
And after a test confirmed her infection, Drury was the first to go public with her diagnosis, as uncomfortable as it was for her to make a public post about herself on Facebook.
“I wanted people to know that it was me,” Drury said in an interview April 9, the first day since her March 23 test that she left her house for any reason other than to seek medical attention. “I’m a nurse. My job is to make sure people are educated, and I wanted to make sure people know that nobody is immune.”
Not even someone with two master’s degrees and years of nursing training and experience whose job includes educating people on best practices to avoid infectious diseases.
“The minute I knew I was positive, I started wondering how I went wrong,” Drury said.
She has figured out how she got it, but revealing that could make somebody else feel badly, so she’s keeping that information to herself. Drury said that decision to not divulge the source of her infection is rooted in the values and ethical practices she learned at Viterbo.
“It’s something I’ve carried with me throughout my career,” Drury said. “It’s part of why nobody will know my entire COVID story,” outside of the La Crosse County Health Department investigators, for whom she had high praise.
Drury’s coronavirus saga started with her first symptom, a dry cough, that surfaced on March 17, the day before the first La Crosse County COVID-19 cases were reported and about five days after her likely exposure to the virus. Body aches kicked in March 20, followed a few days later by a persistent headache worse than her most painful migraine.
She had been hesitant to seek medical attention because she didn’t want to add to the clinic’s burden with a burgeoning crisis. But on March 23, shortly after she emailed her doctor about her symptoms, he responded, urging her to report to the emergency room, or at least urgent care, because she had underlying health issues that could mean a potentially severe case of COVID-19.
Drury didn’t want to go to the hospital, but she did agree to get tested. The next morning it was confirmed she had COVID-19.
In time, she experienced burning pain whenever she tried to take a deep breath, and then shortness of breath. One day it was bad enough to require a trip to the ER, an experience that impressed upon her even more the danger of infection and the importance of health care workers taking every precaution to protect themselves.
She didn’t have to stay at the hospital, instead continuing with her at-home isolation from her family, which lasted for a total of 10 days. The isolation was successful in preventing infection of her husband and her two daughters, who minimized their trips into her room and kept in touch with video calls.
When she was interviewed April 9, she had been back to her school district job for a week, still feeling a bit fatigued but happy to be in the clear and grateful for her Viterbo education in nursing (and life).
“Viterbo has always been a very special place to me,” Drury said.
Her mother earned a nursing degree at Viterbo, and Drury recalls going to classes with her mother at 3 years old, sitting in on lessons from Wendy (Wegner) Storandt ’76, advisor to Drury’s mother and later to her.
Drury’s mother died of cancer in 1989, shortly after her spring graduation ceremony, leaving Drury and her siblings as orphans. Through a childhood that had her going into a succession of foster homes, Drury said she felt like Viterbo was her real home.
“Since I was 3, I was going to go to Viterbo and I was going to be a nurse,” she said. “Viterbo was the only constant that I knew, the only home that I knew. When people go home for Thanksgiving, that’s the same feeling I get when I go on campus.”