[Diocese of Kansas] The Rev. Diane Kruger, an emergency department nurse in Wichita, Kansas, and deacon at Trinity Episcopal Church in nearby El Dorado, was among the first 100 people in the state on Dec. 14 to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19.
Kruger works at the St. Francis campus of the Ascension Via Christi hospitals, where the vaccinations took place. The campus received the first of the state’s initial 24,000 doses.
She was caught off guard when her department charge nurse asked her if she wanted to get the vaccine. “I thought it probably would start out in New York,” she said. “I was surprised it was available in Wichita on the first day,” which came only three days after the federal Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorization for the vaccine.
Kruger said she got the vaccine about 2:30 p.m. and then was monitored for 15 minutes for any possible adverse reactions. She had none, saying the injection felt similar to getting a tetanus booster. She will receive the second required dose in early January.
Because her excitement for the vaccine was well-known in her department, she was asked to speak to a reporter for a local TV station about her experience. She readily agreed.
“I see this as an education component,” she said. “It’s why I’ve been putting everything on Facebook.” She said she hoped that by being open and telling her story about being vaccinated, it will help other people know it will be OK for them, too.
Professional and personal excitement
Her excitement about the vaccine is both professional and personal. She said COVID-19 “has been truly overwhelming” in her hospital and is “phenomenally worse than it was in the spring.”
The emergency department initially set aside a special area for patients who were, as she said, “COVID suspicious.” That area had to expand to treat a large influx of patients this fall. And, Kruger said, someone might have come in with a kidney infection, but after they were tested, she and other staff would find they were treating a patient with COVID-19.
Elsewhere in the hospital, the COVID-19 area has expanded four times, with one of the intensive care units now reserved for coronavirus patients.
On the day Kruger received her first dose of the vaccine, Kansas reported 1,429 new cases of COVID-19 and 37 deaths.
Personally, she said she was thrilled to have a new way to help protect her husband, Denny, who is undergoing chemotherapy. “I have been diligent not to bring it home to him,” she said, wearing an N95 mask under a surgical mask throughout her 12-hour shifts.
For three months in the spring she lived in their basement, and she and her husband had no physical contact. As more was known about how the virus spread, she and many of her colleagues have a new protocol. When she gets home from the hospital, she takes off her clothes in the laundry room and puts everything right into the washing machine. She then heads for the shower where she scrubs down with soap – even her eyelashes. After that, she uses Lysol wipes to clean her glasses.
Vocations in common
Since the spring, Kruger has served alongside the Rev. Les Jackson every Sunday during online worship, both at Trinity in El Dorado and at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Newton. Jackson serves as rector of both parishes, so he and Kruger alternate between the parishes weekly for livestreamed church services.
Kruger said her two vocations – nurse and deacon – share a common thread. “I have felt for a long time that nursing is diaconal in nature,” she said. “The role of the deacon is to care for people, finding the people who need our care and then helping.” And right now, for her, that means getting a vaccine and following other public health guidelines.
“We have to take care of each other,” she said. “We have to look out for those in our community, for whatever reason, who can’t get the vaccine. We must be diligent about masks and social distancing for a few more months, until the vaccine can roll out to more people.”
She said it was the calling of all Christians to take care of other people, and the vaccine, wearing masks and keeping distance are all ways to do that.
And, she said, this is the key to lives getting back to something more normal – sharing holidays, being together in church and spending time with family and friends. For her, that will mean getting to be with her grandchildren in Connecticut, whom she has not seen in a year.
“This is the first step in a walk around the world,” she said, “but it is an exciting first step.”
— Melodie Woerman is director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas.