Northwestern Memorial Hospital's 'Old Dolls' bring decades of nursing experience to COVID-19 frontlines

CHICAGO (WLS) -- In the war against the coronavirus, our hospitals have been the battlegrounds and our health care workers our soldiers. Without a vaccine, the experience these workers bring to their jobs has been the main weapon in bringing thousands to recovery.

At Northwestern Memorial Hospital, decades of experience has been packed into one tight-knit group of nurses, affectionately known as the "Old Dolls."

"There's a core group of us that have worked there for about almost 40 years, each one of us," said Cindy Pascalo, nurse.

"That's why we call ourselves 'oldies,'" nurse Raquel Collanto explained.

Pascalo and Colllanto are part of the Old Dolls. The nurses in the group grew their careers at Northwestern together, evolving from colleagues to friends and now family.

"We've all had children together, we've been through deaths of parents and siblings," Pascalo said. "We do lean on each other a lot."

When the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, they watched as their hospital transformed entire medical floors, in disbelief over the influx of patients and the medical uncertainties surrounding the virus.

"We have whole floors of COVID units that were previously other kinds of intensive care," said Pascalo.

"Is this really real?" Collanto said she's wondered as the virus spread.

The Old Dolls, themselves at high risk for severe infection coupled with the risks of treating the virus, were given the option to work on other units. They turned it down.

"My manager and my director said, 'You have a choice not to go into the COVID unit.' I said, no, with all this, the courage of my staff, the willingness of them to step up, and that made me so emotional and say, 'OK, no. I will go with you,'" Collanto said.

So the Old Dolls took their places on the frontlines, knowing the experience they bring would be worth the risk.

"Everything is second nature to me," Pascalo explained. "Like, I'll walk into a room and I don't really have to think about what's going on. I automatically recognize when things are not right and things are out of place."

Using their knowledge and instincts to guide them, the Old Dolls have also helped to inspire younger nurses working alongside them.

"Raquel is a team player through and through," said nurse Jaime Hosler. "She's probably precepted hundreds of nurses in her career, and she's really committed to, as she called them, the kids."

Pascalo has become a floor mom ad mentor to young nurses as well. Her daughter Jessica DeBrocke is also a staff nurse at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and said she loves working alongside her mom. She's concerned about her health, but confident in her work.

"The worry of a daughter, but the appreciation of a nurse," she said. "It shows me how much she really loves it. She really, truly loves helping people."

At the end of the day, for the Old Dolls it's about the love of helping others, pandemic or not.

"We are all helping each other," Collanto said. "Everyone is learning about this. I mean, no one has had this experience before."

"If I can just help them feel a little bit better, the family as well as the patients, then it makes me feel better about myself," said Pascalo.
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