FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WFFT) — Purdue Fort Wayne softball senior Brooke Imel has been spending part of her time during Indiana's stay-at-home order doing what everyone else seems to be doing: staying at home, walking her dog in the park, and trying to keep her family safe and healthy.
In this sense, Imel is doing her part to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
In another, she is doing even more.
Imel is in her penultimate semester of the nursing program at Purdue Fort Wayne. In December, she will graduate in the final class in the program's history at Purdue Fort Wayne.
As a part of her program, she is required to work in a hospital to satisfy the clinical requirements for her degree. Imel is working as a patient care technician at a hospital in Fort Wayne and has seen the virus firsthand.
She estimates that she has worked with up to 40 patients with COVID-19, as of May 4.
As expected, Imel has been going through extensive training sessions when dealing with the coronavirus, including the donning and discarding of personal protective equipment (PPE).
The hospital staff is equipped with gowns, masks, hairnets, gloves, goggles and shoe covers.
"The biggest thing for me that I was nervous about was not taking my protective equipment off correctly and contaminating myself or even contaminating the people around me that I'm working with," Imel said. "I feel like my body would be able to fight it better but I wouldn't want to contaminate my parents or grandparents or anyone with a weaker immune system."
As the coronavirus continues to spread to a reported 20,507 cases in Indiana (as of May 4), it becomes more likely that it affects someone in any social circle.
This is the case for Imel, as she saw a friend infected with the virus on a ventilator in the intensive care unit while she was working. He has since recovered and has been taken off the ventilator.
"To see him get incredibly better and to see that our researchers and scientists and doctors are working so hard to find something for this is really encouraging," Imel said. "Seeing those patients that I have worked with, that have been on vents, seeing them wake up and start talking and getting better is really cool for me."
"Sometimes you only hear about the negatives," Imel said. "But it's been good to see the amount of people that have been on vents for weeks at a time that have actually come off and become healthy."
Imel was in her final season with the softball program at Purdue Fort Wayne while working in the hospital.
The team was in Saint Louis, Missouri to take part in the Billiken Spring Tournament in mid-March before having the season cut short.
The team had just finished practice when the tournament was canceled and coach Germaine Fairchild told the team to load the bus for the return trip.
"It was really hard," Imel said. "It was an abrupt end that I wasn't ready for. I thought I had a couple months left with my team and coach G. But I think one of the most special parts was that I was on the bus with my team during that time. That really helped a lot to be with them and kind of comfort me and get that one last bus ride and make it memorable."
Imel lives at home in Leo, Indiana with her parents, Jason and Emily.
Even prior to the pandemic, Imel would take off her work shoes before entering the house, but this has escalated to her changing clothes entirely before walking through the front door.
She then immediately takes a shower prior to interacting with her family.
Her father is a firefighter and has been utilizing the same practices to keep her mother, who has been working from home, safe and healthy.
For her final semester at Purdue Fort Wayne in the fall, Imel will have three classes with one clinical rotation and will continue to work in the field in the spare time that she has.
As she continues to serve her community in the hospital, Imel urges everyone to stay positive when it seems most difficult.
"Be thankful for everything you have in life and for the health that you have," Imel said. "Take care of yourself so if this sort of thing ever happens again, you're putting yourself and your family in the best position to be healthy and fight against this if you are to get it."