‘When we were asked to do this, it wasn’t even a question in my mind’
Christine Barleben has worked at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center for half of her life. The medical respiratory intensive care unit nurse started in lab processing and phlebotomy before moving to her current role, where she has cared for patients for 14 years. Growing up with family members in need of medical care inspired her to provide that same service for other families.
“I’ve always liked taking care of people. I’ve had several family members that needed care,” Barleben said. “I feel like I was meant to do this.”
The pride Barleben takes in her work is obvious. Despite how hard working on the front lines has been, she never hesitated.
“When we were asked to do this, it wasn’t even a question in my mind. I know the patients need me more than ever right now,” she said. “We stepped up to it. It’s amazing to think years from now that I can say I did this. We made a difference. We made history doing this.”
She’s seen how hard the pandemic has been on families of her patients, especially since her unit sees the most critical cases.
“For them to be able to trust that we are doing everything we can without them seeing, it takes a lot of phone calls. I tell them to call me if they need to and not to think that they’re bothering me,” said Barleben. “It’s a heartbreaking situation on both ends, on our end and for the families. I can’t imagine if one of my family members was sick and I couldn’t see them. They’re putting their trust in me as the nurse.”
Barleben takes that trust very seriously. She takes phone calls from family members of patients often several times a day, helping to keep them up to date on their loved ones sometimes even outside of working hours. As a charge nurse, her role has also shifted to make sure her team members have the support they need.
“We’re constantly checking on each other to see how we’re doing,” she said. “We’re more in tune to give people a break when they need it. You keep an eye on nurses who have had a rough couple of days.”
When she leaves the hospital, Barleben’s day is far from over. She has three young children at home and an 84-year old grandfather she cares for each week. Even with all of her responsibilities, she tries to find time to decompress.
“In my free time, I love to paint things on pallets. When I have a bad day, that’s my stress relief. If I can work a little bit of time to do some painting and get in my own little world, it helps,” she said.
She is hopeful that the COVID vaccine will help turn things around and give her and her team some relief.
“There are brilliant scientists who came up with this. I know that some people are afraid about how quickly this came out. We have to trust that these doctors are doing what’s best for us,” Barleben said. “Just like I’m taking care of your loved ones in the ICU, we have to trust that they are doing what’s best.”
About the Author
Ben Hoekstra is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health. He previously worked in marketing and PR for various Milwaukee nonprofits and received his master’s degree in Corporate Communications from Marquette University. He enjoys the outdoors, cooking, and all things Milwaukee.