Faces of the Pandemic: In this together

Peninsula Premier Admin

At the end of a demanding day, Stacy and Denton Rohrbough often put their two small children to bed, and then sink into their sofa, planning to “veg out” in front of the television before turning in early. Suddenly they see that it’s midnight, and realize they’ve been talking without ever turning on the tube.

There’s a lot to catch up on for a couple who both work in the Emergency Department at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Particularly during a pandemic.

Raised in the Central Valley within a family of health practitioners — his grandmother worked in a nursing home, his mother is a nurse, and his father is an emergency room physician — Denton Rohrbough became an emergency medical technician (EMT), whose career has taken him from the ambulance to the emergency room.

Starting just after 6 a.m., Rohrbough puts in 12-hour days behind layers of personal protective equipment. He moves through the emergency department with a special kind of mental and physical agility that enables him to pivot through the day, transporting patients into rooms and to and from X-rays and exams, checking vital signs, setting up procedures, performing EKGs, cleaning wounds, and offering a kind word.

As soon as he gets home, Rohrbough primes himself for an attack from his 2- and 5-year-old children. It’s hard to refrain from that excited running across the room to Daddy, so he tries to make sure he’s doffed his hospital duds and showered off the remains of the day before his kids realize he’s home.

“Everyone’s putting in overtime and working in high-stress circumstances at the hospital, so sometimes it’s a little overwhelming to receive the rush of kids at the end of the day,” he said, “but our kids really are the light at the end of the tunnel, a wonderful reminder of what’s important.”

Support system

While Denton Rohrbough works as an EMT, Stacy Rohrbough divides her time as an aesthetician in Monterey, a nurse practitioner in the ER, and a mom at their Pacific Grove home.

“Unlike Denton, who works in triage,” she said, “I’m in the ER to help receive an urgent patient, and start medication. Once I get my patient situated, I check to see if other nurses need help with emergent patients. COVID has brought out the teamwork in all of us. Without it, nurses would drown in the demands of the day.”

Stacy Rohrbough recognizes that, particularly during the pandemic, medical care must be complemented by emotional support, especially since friends and family members can’t come into the Emergency Department but must wait outside or at home for a call from the doctor or nurse to receive an update.

“We feel blessed to be there for patients, for their families, and for each other,” she said. “In the emergency room, when coworkers need to vent or cry, or they need five minutes to collect themselves after a patient has died, the rest of us need to cover for them. When it happens at the beginning of a shift, it’s hard to get through the next 12 hours. We have to put a Band-Aid on our emotions and keep going.”

At the end of a long day, Rohrbough removes her N95 mask and realizes her headache is most likely from not drinking enough water, not eating enough, not breathing deeply enough. She climbs into her car, takes a couple of cleansing breaths, drinks the water waiting there, and turns on the radio to decompress before heading home to her family.

“If we have a lot of really sick patients that day,” she said, “I need to process that experience before I get home to our kids. I want to be present for them and in a happy state, so I have about 15 minutes to shift gears. Sometimes it’s really hard.”

When Rohrbough comes through the door she’s greeted by two little gleeful faces, excited to see her. Once the children are asleep, she and Denton return to their couch to process the day.

“I push the work experience down once I’m home,” she said. “Denton and I both realize what we’re going through. It would be hard if he worked at a bank and didn’t understand the flow of the ER and its demands. Since he knows the emotions and what’s going on due to the pandemic, it’s nice to be able to vent with each other.”

Tag team

Stacy and Denton Rohrbough, who have been together 18 years, met in Pinecrest in Tuolumne County where he was a bartender and she was serving as a waitress — a job she believes should be a prerequisite for nursing school, as both require a lot of multitasking, flexibility, patience, and compassion. She earned her bachelor of science degree in nursing, followed by her Master of Nursing degree at Fresno State, with a specialization as a nurse practitioner. Stacy began her nursing career in an emergency room in Visalia before shifting to Community Hospital, after the couple moved to the Peninsula in 2010.

“Denton and I were talking about what would make a good emergency room worker,” she said. “Having been a waitress in the past, I can do a lot at one time, taking orders from a doctor, while getting meds and starting an IV, and I can hold a lot of emotion, handling a lot of circumstances at once. It was easier to be a waitress, though. You drop off a meal and are good to go. No one’s going to die on your watch.”

When Stacy and Denton Rohrbough work together on the same shift in the ER, they call it a date. Then, family members or babysitters step in to care for their kids. On a rare day off together, the family likes to spend time together, outdoors.

“We’re so lucky,” she said, “to be able to go out and see the ocean, hike on the trails, take in the fresh air. We just have to remember to breathe.”

Contributed by local news sources

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