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A Capital City COVID Chronicle: Pamela Beavers Simmons

Masked woman hugging another woman
Capital Regional Medical Center
used with permission
Nurse Pamela Simmons expressing her affection and gratitude to a CRMC co-worker.

As the pandemic began, Nurse Simmons helped her hospital's COVID patients. And, then she became one of those patients herself.

As the pandemic abates, we're looking back at how COVID-19 impacted some of the people in Tallahassee. For our second and final COVID Chronicle, we spoke with a local hospital nurse who suddenly found her role changed from "caregiver" to "patient."

"My name is Pamela Beavers Simmons, and I am a core charge nurse on the observation unit at Capital Regional Medical Center."

But that wasn't where Nurse Simmons was working almost a year-and-a-half ago.

"February of 2020, I was doing 2 roles: I was working as house supervisor and charge nurse on the teleneurofloor, which is on the 8th floor of the hospital. And with COVID, they selected our unit to be the COVID unit."

That was when the trickle of COVID cases started becoming a flood.

"In February and March, we started seeing so many patients come in that succumbed to the virus. Naturally, many of our staff members left for fear. That's understandable. But me being a veteran nurse for over 20 years, I felt compelled and a sense of duty, if that makes sense. I couldn't abandon my teammates."

Making the situation even worse, said Simmons, is that the disease was such a shape-shifter, impacting different patients in different ways.

"Some people came in with GI (gastrointestinal) issues. Some came in with neurological. Like one patient who came in who ended up being paralyzed and couldn't walk. We had patients who had to have double lung transplants because of the scarring of their pulmonary system."

Simmons' nursing career began during the time of HIV and AIDS. She said that experience made her acutely aware of the speed and ease with which deadly infections can spread. So as Capital Regional's COVID patient population grew, Simmons was obsessive when it came to personal protection protocols and insisting that her co-workers strictly follow those rules. This is why nobody, particularly Pamela Simmons, thought she'd ever contract the virus.

"I started having a slight little cough. And I was a pretty healthy person. I could cycle 10-15 miles 3 to 4 times a week. No co-morbidities. None! (I'd) never been sick except for maybe the common cold. But that just goes to show how contagious the virus is."

Suddenly, Simmons was a COVID patient in the very unit she'd been overseeing. She believed it was only the loving care provided by her co-workers and the support of so many devoted friends that pulled her through.

"They rallied around me! I had so many prayers and people that texted and messaged me. Hundreds - probably thousands - of them! People that I worked with over the years who sent me messages and emails and cards. I truly believe it took a village, a community to help me. They prayed for me when I couldn't pray for myself."

Simmons acknowledged her road to recovery has not been smooth. After being discharged from the hospital, she continued to battle pneumonia, fever, and fatigue for weeks. Her youngest son even took a semester off from college to help her regain her strength.

"It took three-and-a-half, almost four months, for my lungs to finally clear up. I can't exercise to the capacity I did before, but I go around Lake Jackson and walk anywhere from a half-mile to two miles three to four days a week. I'm trying to build myself up and I can only go up three or four flights of steps by myself, whereas before I could do eight to ten. But I feel myself slowly but surely getting back."

Pamela Simmons also praised her employer, Capital Regional Medical Center and those at HCA corporate for standing by her during the ordeal. And welcoming her back when she was ready.

"I didn't return to work until March the 17th. From Dec. the 8th to March the 17th."

Although, she asked the hospital to not reassign her to the COVID unit. Still, Simmons isn't shy about sharing her experience with others and warning them of COVID's potentially deadly consequences. Especially, since so many believe - mistakenly - that the pandemic is behind us.

"Fewer people are succumbing to it now, but we're still seeing people come in with COVID and are not doing well, especially in the age groups of 40s, 50s and 60s, even younger. They're coming in with the severe pneumonia that's associated with COVID and succumbing to it because they didn't have the vaccine."

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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