Savanna, RN, BSN is a travel ICU nurse and a vocal member of the nursing community. Recently, Savanna has taken to TikTok as @thatICUnurse to fight disinformation and vocalize the harsh realities of what it is like nursing through the COVID-19 pandemic. Known as “the flower lady” in her neighborhood, she shares happiness and love wherever she goes. She is a true #MoxieNurse.
Q: Tell us a little about your nursing journey. When did you know that you wanted to be a nurse?
Savanna: I started to have the idea of being a nurse when my grandma had breast cancer and lymphoma. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with her in the hospital helping to care for her. I feel like it's always been in my DNA to be a caretaker. When somebody would hurt their ankle, like on the soccer field, I was always the first one there checking it. I didn't know what I was doing, but it's always just been second nature to help people. So when my grandma was sick, I saw that role in the nurse and the idea of being a nurse went from there.
I always knew that the medical field was something I wanted to do after seeing my grandma battle illness. Nursing was a really good fit for me. I went to nursing school and graduated just over six years ago. I was really lucky as a new grad and was able to get a critical care position in a neuro ICU. I learned a lot and after a year I moved into a charge nurse position where I charged over a neuro ICU, a med surge ICU, and their corresponding step-down units. I did that for about four years and then our hospital kind of split. You had to make a choice whether you wanted to work in neuro ICU or med surge ICU. I chose med surge ICU and did that for a year. When the pandemic started, I started travel nursing and now I've done three contracts in three different states. I'm in New York now.
Q: If you could tell yourself or other nurses one piece of advice, what would it be? What do nurses need to hear right now?
Savanna: I wish I would have valued myself a little bit higher earlier on in this pandemic. I think, as nurses, we're taught to be selfless and give all our energy to our patients. We give ourselves completely to whoever needs help; but, we really were being neglected at the beginning of this pandemic. A lot of us just took it lying down and we're like, “This is okay''. We all knew that we were going to do what we needed to do for our patients. As the pandemic went on and things didn't change, they got worse. It made me wake up to the fact that no one's going to protect us unless we speak up for ourselves. I would advise other nurses to start speaking up for themselves if they are not currently doing so. This has always been a big problem in nursing, but now it is heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. As nurses we want to just nurture, nurture, nurture to the point that we run ourselves into the ground. We have nurses that are dying from COVID and just feel like if I could say anything to nurses it's to know your worth. Know that you are worthy of being protected. If you don't feel like you're being stood up for, then you have to stand up for yourself.
Q: Do you ever find yourself thinking that instead of continuing on with being a travel nurse that you would ever be grounded in a hospital or in a medical center again?
Savanna: After travel nursing, I don't think I could go back to typical hospital nursing just because there is a freedom that comes with travel nursing. In nursing, especially ICU nursing, there's still a huge problem with horizontal violence and drama. I really love that as a travel nurse you get to go take care of your patients and you're doing what you're there to do as a nurse. Your goal is to take care of patients and do not have to get involved with all of the other hospital bureaucracy that goes on along with nursing. I really don't know that I could ever go back to just being a staff nurse. As a travel nurse, you feel like you are getting fairly compensated for your skills. I make six times what I made as a bedside nurse now as a travel nurse. I don't know that I could ever go back.
Q: As a travel nurse, have you been exposed to the reality of the way nurses are treated in different parts of the country?
Savanna: For sure. I have seen how nurses are treated differently in different parts of a company and also in different parts of the country in terms of wage. I have also seen a difference in terms of employee treatment. I've been an ICU nurse for six years and I have never really had a lunch break until I came to New York as a travel ICU nurse. Here in New York, they have very strict rules and you're taking an hour for lunch. You have to go take an hour. You can nap, you can eat lunch; but, you have to take an hour. Part of travel nursing is you see how different nursing is all over the country. It really does open your eyes to a lot of stuff.
Q: Nurses are generally very compassionate and community oriented individuals. Have you made new nursing friends during the pandemic even as a travel nurse?
Savanna: Yeah, absolutely. I have friends all over the country now which is wonderful. I met another nurse this year who lives in New Orleans. My husband and I love New Orleans. I was like, “Don't worry. I'll be hitting you up once the pandemic is over.” It's nice to know that you have a big network of travel nurses. It’s definitely a nice perk of being a travel nurse.
Q: You touch a lot of people’s lives. Is there one patient that will always stick with you?
Savanna: One patient that touched my heart the most during this pandemic was a patient I had when I was still at my staff nursing job at the start of the pandemic. I got her the day after she got admitted and I followed her all throughout her COVID journey to the point where she was on the verge of intubation. I was in her room six different times with FaceTime up talking to her family and helping her get everyone on the same page. She didn't know if she wanted to get intubated or not. She did decide to get intubated and unfortunately did not do well. I had to follow her all the way through her death process. The day that her family decided to let her go, they came in and were afraid to go inside of the room. Rightfully so, it was early on in the pandemic.
I went in the room with my patient and held her hand and got her family on the phone. I had to hold the phone up to her ear so that her family could all talk to her and tell her goodbye. I just stayed with her, held her hand, and talked to her until she passed. I wanted her to know that she wasn't alone. This patient was really one of the ones that'll stick with me because I just got to know her so well. I had her for about six days straight and you can just really get attached to people like that sometimes. I'm glad I was able to be there for her.
Q: We are constantly in awe of nurses like you. We know your profession comes with ups and downs but we are just so grateful that there are nurses like you out there.
Savanna: Thank you, we are all just trying to help. During the pandemic, everyone's just been so thankful for nurses to be there to help them. It always feels good.
Q: We love your TikTok account and how you are able to foster this amazing community of nurses. Why TikTok?
Savanna: I don't know why TikTok. I think because I felt like I could just say the little things that I’ve wanted to say. When I had COVID in October, I started telling people about my journey. I wanted to share what worked for me and my experience as a nurse. As it's progressed, I've realized what a poor job we've done at educating the American people on COVID-19, mask wearing, and the vaccine. It’s crazy the amount of people who still don't understand how a mask even works a year into the pandemic. I started my account from a moment of desperation where I felt like I needed to tell people the truth and reality around COVID and nursing. I don't feel like they're hearing it. I feel people also need to know that nurses are not okay right now. We are seeing people die. Multiple people, every day. We're being stretched to our limit. We are being asked to work every day because there aren't enough nurses. There's still people out there who think that COVID isn't real. So to me, it was just like, well, I'll tell them. I'll tell them what's going on.
I always say, “Don't ask your COVID nurse how COVID is doing unless you really want to hear it.” I have felt like with TikTok, I could help to educate people. A lot of people have reached out to me and said, “I'm really glad that you post these videos. Cause I wouldn't have known.”
What I like about TikTok as opposed to Instagram or Facebook is when you're on Instagram or Facebook, you get your own views reflected back at you. What you think is probably pretty similar to what your friends think. If your friends are posting that masks don't work and that COVID is a hoax, then that is all you're going to see. You're not going to see the people who deal with it every day and have a different view than yours. So I think that is what is really nice about TikTok and their algorithm. It does show people topics that maybe they wouldn't have seen.
There's a lot of great creators on TikTok that really help to get out the good information. The truth can get so buried. Something as small as somebody posting on Facebook saying that the COVID vaccine causes infertility, can become a widely accepted thought. I like to use TikTok to try to combat that misinformation in any way that I can. Of course I can tell my family and my friends and educate them, but I felt like I could do a little bit more through my videos.
Q: What do you do for fun? What do you do when it's time to get out of the hospital?
Savanna: One of my favorite things to do when I'm not working is to garden. I like to grow flowers and it's one of my passions to do art with them. I've been getting into resin recently, too. In my neighborhood, I'm known as the flower lady. During the spring and summer, I will plant dahlias, zinnias, and sunflowers. I have a whole garden bed that my husband and I have dug out. It's exploding with flowers. Once a week I'll cut bouquets, put them together, and then I'll post on the neighborhood Facebook page for everyone to come get a bouquet. It's really fun. People will message me and be like, “Hey, can I bring my kids and come cut flowers today?” It's always really nice to see people out there having fun. My garden definitely brings me a lot of happiness. It's nice to cultivate something pretty and to know that you grew that. I really enjoy the flowers and making dehydrated and pressed flowers. I make all kinds of little projects with them.