Life during covid: North Huntingdon home health care supervisor writes fiction novel to escape stress

Editor’s note: This is an occasional series examining how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the lives of members of our community.

Since the onset of covid-19, there’s been no such thing as a routine home health care visit.

Although the spread of coronavirus has slowed in the region, a North Huntingdon nursing supervisor is busy each day dispatching some 100 nurses and physical therapists into the homes of patients in Allegheny, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

“We’re treating (patients) at home, managing their symptoms … and keeping the beds open” in the hospital for those whose conditions are worse or have other ailments, said Eleanor “Lena” Nazarei of UPMC Home Healthcare in West Mifflin.

The home health care industry became critical as the covid pandemic spread, Nazarei said. Instead of patients going to a physician’s office when they are sick, they are treated in their homes, possibly averting further spread of the virus.

While masks, gowns and face shields have become customary for her workers, Nazarei said that has not prevented some nurses from being quarantined, forcing the agency to see more patients with fewer staff.

“We’ve had multiple exposures to covid,” Nazarei said. “We’re doing everything we can to minimize the risk, but when you’re a nurse, there’s always a risk. The job is seeking sick patients.”

On the flip side, some patients were worried a nurse might bring the virus into their home and canceled appointments.

“More people who need therapy are not getting it in the last 10 months,” Nazarei said.

Family issues and in-home schooling for children compound the stress for many health care industry workers, Nazarei said.

“We’re seeing a very high rate of burnout … just in the first year,” she said. “It’s like you’re running a marathon and you don’t know where the finish line is.”

Nazarei herself has juggled the demands of a professional career and parenthood.

As crazy as the schedule might be and while driving around Southwestern Pennsylvania takes its toll, “it is the only area of nursing where you have a flexible schedule,” said Nazarei, who has been a home health care nurse for six years.

“I was able to be a nurse, raise my kids and go to school,” she said. “As (traditional) nurses, we are accustomed to stressful 12- to 14-hour shifts and overnights. We forget that there are better, healthy options for work where you can still help people but not sacrifice your family time.”

Nazarei earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, where she is pursing her doctorate.

Creative escapes

While she has a passion for taking care of people through nursing, she maintains a love of theater and acting. She participated in school plays and was talented enough to land parts in area community theater productions. The pandemic canceled those opportunities last year.

“I miss it,” Nazarei said.

In her “spare” time and to reduce the stress of her job and the challenges of being a single mother raising two daughters, she turned her energies to writing a fantasy novel, “Bite Shift.” The main character — a nurse who is a vampire — is built around something she knows and loves.

“I wrote the vampire story I wish I had (written) in high school,” said Nazarei, who grew up in Manassas, Va., with a lifelong love of fiction.

Upon finishing the book last year, she faced what many authors experience. Getting a first book published is a daunting process, and there were months of rejections.

She eventually started a fundraising page on social media and received $5,800. She has found a publisher, and “Bite Shift” will be in print “in time for summer reading.”

It is the first of what she foresees as the “Eternal Night Shift” series she wants to write.

Her teenage daughters were the biggest motivators in getting the book published, Nazarei said.

“I want to teach them that just because things don’t go the way you planned or wanted them to doesn’t mean you give up,” she said. “Sometimes, you need to take a step back and find another way.”

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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