By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, April 16, 2020
Lauren English is no stranger to fighting disease.
In 2012, shortly before Olympic Trials, she was diagnosed with Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction, which sent her to the hospital instead of to Omaha to compete. The Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction occurs when the sphincter does not relax at the appropriate time (due to scarring or spasm), causing a backup of fluids and episodes of severe abdominal pain.
With the help of surgery and changes to her diet, English manages this disorder and found inspiration from her medical treatment to enroll in the nursing program at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan, NY. She earned her RN in 2015, and was “very fortunate” to secure a position at the same hospital.
“That was a very difficult time for me, especially missing 2012 Trials because I was swimming really well at the time,” she said. “But that experience made me interested in helping other people through nursing. My care during that time changed my life.”
Now, several years later, English is at the forefront of a new fight against disease – but this one isn’t isolated to her.
It impacts the world every day.
English is a nurse treating patients with COVID-19 every day, and it’s a medical landscape not realized in modern times but one she believes will change the world as we know it moving forward.
“It’s been an eye-opening experience,” said English, who lives in New Jersey and commutes to Manhattan for work. “I’ve been working with sick people with the coronavirus for five weeks, but we were talking about this in December and planning for the past couple of months. Not necessarily on this scale, but we knew it was coming.
“This is by far the scariest thing I’ve ever seen as a nurse. New York is such a melting pot – so many different people with different conditions, backgrounds, cultures, etc., on such a huge scale – it’s not surprising that we’re the epicenter of the disease. We have worked hard to be ahead of the curve from the start.”
English is on the frontlines of New York City’s fight every day. While she can’t divulge the number of patients she’s seen/served, it is in the thousands, as she works in one of the largest hospitals in the city.
Armed with all the protective gear available to her – mask, gloves, goggles, etc. – she enters the rooms of sick and very sick, treating them not only with medicine but also with compassion and empathy.
Just as she received those displays of humanity and kindness when she was hospitalized, English said she wants each patient – most of whom are so scared and unsure of what’s happening to them – to know that they will be cared for on multiple levels.
“I can’t tell you how many patients I’ve cried with over the past few weeks because they don’t know what to expect from this virus and they are frightened,” said English, a speech pathology/audiology major at Georgia. “When they come into our hospital, our main goal, of course, is to treat the disease.
“But we also want them to know that they are important and aren’t just another number. They need compassion, understanding and to have their fears alleviated as much as possible.”
Just as she’s been a fighter when it comes to healthcare, English was revered during her competitive years as a staunch competitor in the water as well.
After placing ninth in the 100 backstroke at 2004 Olympic Trials at 15, she gained a silver medal in the same event at the 2005 U.S. Open.
In 2006, she won bronze in the 100 back at U.S. Spring Nationals and silver at Summer Nationals. She broke the U.S. Open Record for the 50 backstroke in 2007 at the Toyota Grand Prix at the University of Missouri, winning gold in the event.
At 2005 Junior Pan Pacific Championships, she added a silver medal (in the 100 back), bronze in the 200 back and bronze in the 400 medley relay. As a member of the 2006 Pan Pacific Championship team, English was a finalist in the 100 back, and the next summer at World University Games, she helped U.S. swimmers win silver in the 400 medley relay and was a finalist in the 50 back.
She said she knows the responsibility required of competitive swimmers and the lessons she learned in discipline and time management have proven valuable in her medical career – and enriched her ability and desire to engage with and treat her patients.
She said she believes once this pandemic has subsided and people start to take a true assessment of what happened, medicine and the world as a whole will never be the same.
She thinks that medical practitioners will treat patients with a new level of care and understanding – realizing that these are people with family and lives outside of their diseases.
For her, she already knows this frenetic, life-altering experience has made her more compassionate and better prepared than ever before.
“I think this has changed or will change a lot of people for the better in a lot of different ways,” she said. “I think with all the social distancing and quarantines, people will socialize in a much different way – being very empathetic of one another but, at first, still wary of getting too close.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how I change as a medical practitioner, and I’m excited to see how this all makes us more appreciative, better people. This has taken groups of doctors, nurses, etc. to really work together to treat patients and save lives, so I can see the way we practice medicine becoming more team-focused, and outside of the hospital, I hope we all become more community-focused.”