‘Baptism of fire’ on the frontline of the COVID pandemic

Riley Frantzen shares his story of beginning his nursing career on the frontline of the...
Riley Frantzen shares his story of beginning his nursing career on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic.(Dakota News Now)
Published: Mar. 24, 2022 at 11:04 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 24, 2022 at 11:05 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - This month marks two years that we have been living with the presence of COVID-19.

In some ways, it seems longer; especially for frontline healthcare workers. Including one in Sioux Falls who went from nursing orientation...straight into caring for COVID patients.

These are the moments in life you want to cherish. Time at home, with your love...playing with the family dog.

This is a moment Riley Frantzen appreciates even more than he otherwise might given what he has experienced.

“It was like a whole new world for me.”, said Riley Frantzen.

Baptisms by fire are not pleasant. Thus the meaning of the phrase. Riley Frantzen didn’t think he was in for one when he started as an ICU nurse at Sanford Health. But as fate would have it, that’s what happened.

“Rooms completely full. staff kind of worked to the brink and it had happened so fast I didn’t have time to think about it..”, said Riley Frantzen.

Riley says one moment he was wrapped up in new nurse orientation and what felt like an instant later he was processing COVID patients; trying to keep them comfortable and alive.

“A lot of it was learning on the fly. on the floor. taking patients that were a lot sicker than I anticipated...taken right out of school., right out of orientation.”, Riley said.

And while nursing is working to assist the living....what Riley ended up experiencing was the other side of the coin....where no matter how hard you work...how hard you try...your patients die.

One night, Riley was working with two other nurses with more years on the job, and in spite of their best efforts, they lost a patient.

“I think all three of us just stopped for like three minutes..the two of them emotional. and it was just like holy cow. it wasn’t something I could have ever imagined.”, said Riley.

“it was just exhausting to see how exhausted and stressed out he was.”, said Lexi Frantzen.

Lexi Frantzen is Riley’s wife. COVID turned her world upside down as she worked from home trying to get her footing on a new normal and worrying about what Riley was experiencing in what became known as the COVID unit.

“He was stressed out from work...it kind of just makes your home life situation a little bit stressful as well.”, said Lexi Frantzen.

The stress. The death. The uncertainty of what would come next.

Riley went into work every day, not sure how long his shift would be or how many patients would come in sick. And how many might die? He became a middleman for the sick and those who loved them but couldn’t be with them.

“You look into a lot of patients’ eyes and you see fear, unknown. in the beginning we didn’t have family members. didn’t have visitors. we were the only people that those patients saw for weeks. and on top of it we are the eyes and ears for those family members inside of the hospital communicating with our case managers, our physicians, on a day-to-day basis with them.”, said Riley Frantzen.

We’re at a point now where hopefully the worst of the pandemic is behind us. But we’ll have to wait and see. Riley and Lexi got married last July. A moment of joy in the midst of so much sorrow. But that baptism of fire Riley endured right at the beginning of his nursing career has given him something.

“I think it built me into a much stronger nurse than I also imagined. it was a hard road. you saw a lot of hard things.”, Riley said.

Riley now spends his time on what you could consider more traditional ICU cases. Something he is thankful for.

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