Finding Honolulu’s Helpers: Intensive Care Nurse Manager Leads Front-Line Staff Caring for Critically Ill Patients
As nurse manager for a medical intensive care unit, Cheryl Fallon sees patients live and die each week. Yet she looks forward to going to work each day to support her staff, visit patients on rounds, find needs and meet them.
“I’m a problem solver. I want to figure out what to do, and get it done; it’s the right thing for our patients, and the right thing for my staff,” she says.
Fallon started at The Queen’s Medical Center in 1980 as a staff nurse and became a manager 23 years ago. Now, her responsibilities include leading the nursing staff, and helping visitors don extensive safety gear for in-person end-of-life visits, which are carefully planned exceptions to COVID-19 rules that prohibit most visits. Co-workers say her calm focus helped them weather the difficult and unpredictable nature of the pandemic. COVID-19 brought bigger challenges than ever, Fallon says, because it’s aggressive and unpredictable, sometimes taking the lives of young, otherwise healthy patients and sparing those much sicker.
She’s held hands with family members preparing to say goodbye to their husbands, wives and parents. And she’s been there for unexpected recoveries. The family of an older, very sick man struggling for his life sent in an iPad to stay in touch: “They would talk to him, play his favorite music.” Despite a grim prognosis, he pulled through. “Not that I’m a spiritual person, but some kind of spiritual thing or family thing happens that just helps.”
Workdays run long. Fallon usually wakes up by 4:30 a.m., thinks about the day ahead, then eats breakfast. She explains her morning ritual with a smile that shines through her mask, glasses and protective goggles: “I’m very weird. I drive from Kāne‘ohe to Kailua to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to get my coffee because that coffee makes me really happy. My son tells me it’s the sugar in that coffee but I don’t care; it still makes me very happy.” Then she drives over the Pali, ready to start work at 6:30 a.m. She finishes work between 4 and 6:30 p.m., goes home, has dinner and gets to sleep by 8 or 9.
She wishes those who don’t believe the pandemic is deadly could see patients struggle in the ICU and the extreme methods used to help them survive: “It gets in your lungs. Can you imagine not breathing and us having to paralyze you? You don’t want to scare people but this is a really horrible disease.”
Through it all, Fallon relies on another routine to keep herself centered: driving to Kailua Beach to watch the sunrise every Sunday, rain or shine. The week we met, she’d just snapped a photo as the sun rose between the Mokulua islets: “It was just so inspiring,” she says. “That is almost like my therapy.”