Kerrie Klein BSN ’07 is not one to shy away from the action. Before becoming a nurse, she got her adrenaline rush as a paramedic, although ultimately that became old. So did the lack of a steady income and career advancement. As she pondered what to do next, she thought she should take advantage of her background in clinical care, but she wasn’t sure how.
Although she applied to several programs, the accelerated program at the Mount appealed to her. However, the biggest draw was its reputation. “Every time I say where I got my degree, people are impressed,” Klein says. “The teachers had high expectations; there was no scooting by. You had to get close to your classmates; you were entrenched. You leaned on each other to get through. I feel like I knew everybody. I’m so proud to be a Mount alum.”
Klein went straight into the ICU and critical care training program out of nursing school, choosing the Sunset/Los Angeles medical center because she wanted the highest acuity and the challenge of the ICU. After three years, Klein decided to try to join the nurse anesthetists she viewed as superheroes. On her first try, she got one of only three spots from a candidate pool of 550.
Since 2012, Klein has worked for Kaiser Permanente in Panorama City. At the start of the COVID-19 battle, Klein dismissed any talk of healthcare workers being heroes. “I thought, we’re just doing our jobs,” she says. “We chose to do these jobs, but we never thought we were going to face something like this. So I’d say we’re reluctant heroes.”
As a nurse anesthetist, Klein is involved in the highest-risk procedures in terms of exposure to the virus, with a first-hand view of its devastating effects. For example, Klein intubated a patient who was COVID-positive and not responding to treatment despite being intubated, getting CPR, and having a tube thrust into her chest to decompress air surrounding her lung. Each step added more opportunities for the virus to be aerosolized.
Even before a routine surgery, Klein is on the front lines. She’ll go in and intubate the patient in the OR and sit in the room alone with the patient as the air is being filtered. “We’re like the bomb squad going in by ourselves. ‘Ok you guys, you can come in now, we’ve deactivated the bomb.’”
Klein lives alone, and while that eases the fear of whom she might be infecting when she goes home every day, she says that the social isolation is starting to wear on her. “It’s hard not to see people,” she admits, “but I’m going to be very responsible because I could definitely be a carrier and not know. I’m a high risk for that.”
She hasn’t seen her mother for at least two months, whereas she used to visit once or twice a week. Although she refers to herself as a bit of a lone wolf, even she depends on getting together with friends or family to decompress. “It’s very isolating to live alone and not have that social contact.”
There has been one positive effect from the virus. “It has reinvigorated a lot of healthcare workers,” Klein explains. “We feel a solidarity, a cohesiveness. People are kinder to each other, ask how they can help. And it’s mutual across the board.