Cousins Jenna Zimmer and Lindsey Malbrough share far more than family in common.
The two registered nurses in the St. Charles Parish Hospital emergency unit are among the heroes who have selflessly helped to save lives while battling on the front line against the COVID-19 pandemic. And as the community leaned on them for help, the two best friends were able to lean on each other to help guide themselves through an often frightening time.
“Jenna is five months younger than me, so we really grew up together,” said Malbrough, of Destrehan. “She’s been my best friend since birth. Most people can’t say they can stand to spend 40 hours a week working with someone side by side and still want to hang out with them on off days, but that’s how it is for us.”
Both Zimmer, a Hahnville High graduate, and Malbrough, a Destrehan resident, credit their mothers for steering them toward healthcare, a path that led to the two becoming co-workers at St. Charles Parish Hospital as registered nurses working with the emergency unit. Neither knew they wanted to go into this profession upon graduating high school.
“My mom told me, ‘In nursing, you’ll always have a job. And if it doesn’t work out, you can try something else.’ Luckily, it did. I really knew that I wanted to be a nurse once I got to nursing school. Unless you’ve worked in healthcare, you won’t know if that is your calling until you’re in a clinical setting.”
Likewise, Malbrough said her mom saw something in the way she took care of family members when they were sick and believed she was meant to be a nurse.
Two more examples that mother knows best.
“When people are grateful and thankful for the service I provide, it’s more rewarding than the paycheck,” Malbrough said. “It’s the best feeling.”
Zimmer grew up in St. Charles Parish, Malbrough in River Ridge before moving to Destrehan four years ago – though St. Charles long served as something of a second home for her, she said, because of the ample time she spent here with family. She ultimately moved here when she was expecting her first child and fell “in love with the parish.”
Malbrough has been a nurse for 10 years, Zimmer for nearly eight. But no length of experience could completely prepare one for the onset of COVID-19. While the world was told to stay indoors and away from the virus, it wasn’t an option for the two nurses. They’d be in the midst of the fray, every day for an uncertain amount of time.
“Of course, it was very scary,” said Zimmer, who along with her husband raises two daughters. “People were dying from this virus and I had to care for people who had this virus. I was scared I would bring it home to my husband and daughters … the only place I could send my children was with my parents, but I didn’t want to infect them.
“I did everything I could to disinfect, change my clothes and shower before I went anywhere near them. And even when I was clean, I didn’t interact with them like I normally do. There was worry and fear.”
Malbrough said the peak of the pandemic was “intense and scary” at times and cited similar reasons. She and her husband sent their kids to stay with family members and did not see them for almost a month.
“I couldn’t be around my family, and my family is very close. That killed me,” Malbrough said. “My dad would drop off hand sanitizer and food and things to me at my house … all I could do was wave to him through the window. That was hard, to not be able to hug him when I really wanted to.”
Both women credited their co-workers for helping them cope with it all and remain focused. They also noted great appreciation for the community’s outreach of support, be it in the form of meals, gifts, signs with messages of appreciation or even simple “thank yous.”
Zimmer said it all served as an amazing bonding experience with her fellow workers.
“I really do work with some amazing people who will be in it with you without hesitation,” she said. “The amount of support and donations we received over the course of the pandemic was so wonderful as well. That support kept us going for sure.”
For Zimmer, growing up in St. Charles Parish means no shortage of familiar faces to care for. It presents a mixed bag of emotion.
“It depends on the situation (as to if it makes things tougher). It’s always tough when you see someone you know suffer … but other times, patients and family I personally know feel comfort to have me care for them or their family, because they actually know me,” Zimmer said.
A bad day can mean that much more for a nurse than workers in other professions. COVID no doubt brought its share of those. Neither woman allowed it to break their faith that this is where they belong.
“I think everyone, at some point in time no matter where they work, may question ‘Why did I choose this as my career’ when they have a bad day. (But) I don’t have any doubts about being a nurse,” Zimmer said.
Said Malbrough, “You have moments where you think of other professions that may be easier, but this is what I want to do. It’s what I believe I do well.”