Rebekah Maples’ career as an allied health professional was right on track.
A graduate of Fayetteville Tech, where she earned her associate degree in radiography in May, Maples was hired as a radiologic technologist at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in July.
“It was the only place I applied,” Maples said.
Then, the unimaginable happened. The novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 struck, and the 34-year-old Fayetteville native found herself on the frontline in the fight against a global pandemic.
“I would never imagine anything like this happening,” Maples said. “It was sudden, and it was scary. But from the time we had our first positive patient, we all kicked into gear.”
A new normal
Maples and her fellow radiographers were flung into a new normal, transitioning from a job busy with various types of X-rays to one that has become COVID-focused.
“Anyone they suspect has COVID gets a chest X-ray, so the amount of chest X-rays has quadrupled, and we do a lot more mobile (X-rays),” Maples said. “We have to go into COVID patients’ rooms more than probably anybody else. Nurses probably see the same three patients in a day. Radiographers, we’re going into every COVID-positive room.”
Maples said that while there may be fewer patients in total at the hospital, with elective surgeries nixed and people generally staying home, her job has become more demanding as the medical center has added layer upon layer of precautions in a massive effort to stem the spread of the virus.
Radiographers, formerly required to wear masks with only some patients, now wear N95 masks with every patient and must don full gear — consisting of a bouffant, goggles, N95 mask, gown and gloves — anytime they’re in a COVID-positive room, in ICU or anywhere on the eighth floor, currently the hospital’s main COVID treatment area.
“It takes us a lot longer (to perform X-rays), obviously, because we want to do the best we can not to spread it as we leave,” Maples said. “All the extra steps take time — the gearing up, the breaking down, cleaning every single part of our mobile machine to make sure we’re not re-contaminating anything.”
Safe at home
As the hospital was adapting its procedures following its first positive COVID result in late March, Maples, a single mother of two, wasted no time taking her own precautions with her family, sending daughters Adyson, age 10, and Madelyn, age 4, to stay with her mother.
“My kids stayed with my mom for the first three weeks until we were wearing PPE with every patient,” Maples said. “I’m very lucky that my daughter is in one of the daycares that’s still open, but I’d hate to be that mom that passes this to my kid, and then my kid passes it to the daycare.”
Maples’ daughters have since returned home, and she’s grown accustomed to the new demands of the job, feeling a little less stress in recent weeks.
“At first, I was on edge. I would leave work so much more tired than normal, and I think that was because of the stress,” she said. “It wasn’t just me; it was my entire team. Now, we’ve gotten used to it, and now I feel like I can trust my PPE. I’ve been in COVID-positive rooms repeatedly, and I’ve been lucky enough not to have gotten it, so it’s working.”
She’s also taken a boost from the outpouring of support much of the general public has shown to health care workers during the outbreak.
“You know how a member of the military will walk by in uniform, and someone will say thank you for your service?” Maples said. “Anytime someone sees me in my scrubs, I’m getting that now. And I just say, ‘Thank you for appreciating.’”
Rebekah Maples is one of many FTCC graduates working at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center. Students in 17 health programs at FTCC do practical training at Cape Fear Valley as part of their education.