The final semester at nursing school was challenging enough. Then the coronavirus pandemic struck, forcing schools to close their doors and convert to a virtual format.

But when the virus knocked down her father, Peter Jardine, the emotional toll was almost too much for his daughter Ashley Jardine.

The nursing student at Central Maine Community College and resident of Poland felt lost and hopeless, while her father was in a medically-induced coma for 12 days and a patient at Maine Medical Center  for more than three weeks.

“It all happened so fast that we didn’t even get a chance to say ‘I love you’ or anything. That weighed heavy on us,” Ashley said.

Peter Jardine, right, talks to his daughter, Ashley, though the storm door of his home in South Berwick on Wednesday afternoon. Peter is recovering from a battle with COVID-19. Ashley, a nursing student at Central Maine Community College, advocated for Peter to remain in Maine instead of being transferred to a Massachusetts hospital. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The no-visitor policy was especially difficult for Ashley and her family. Being exposed to her father, Ashley had to self-quarantine in her Poland home away from the rest of her family. Was getting her degree even worth it?

“To have COVID-19 affect me and my family made it so much more challenging,” Ashley said. “Knowing that your dad is in a coma and you’re being told to prepare for the worst, it’s hard to focus on anything else. I had the urge to just put nursing school on the back burner because I just felt it was too much.” 

With the help of her fellow students and faculty, Ashley persevered. She graduated earlier this month from CMCC and she is preparing for her board exams. And, best of all, her father is home in South Berwick recuperating after his long ordeal.

Ashley, 33, attempted nursing school once before at age 19, but admitted she wasn’t ready and wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life. After several years she discovered the CMCC nursing program in Auburn, met the staff and felt comfortable.

“I felt like the stars aligned when I came here,” Ashley said. “This was the program for me. This was what I wanted to do.”

She said her father was her biggest supporter.

Her world suddenly shifted in mid-March. What started as a sore throat for her father quickly progressed to body aches and chills. Then, his fever spiked to 103 degrees and he had trouble breathing.

As a nurse in training, Ashley understood the symptoms and knew what was happening and why.

“I knew,” she said. “I had a gut feeling. I was home (in Poland) when I got the news. The next day my dad was intubated and put into a medically-induced coma.”

Ashley Jardine, wearing her student nursing uniform, was finishing up her studies while her father was on a ventilator for a few weeks being treated for COVID-19 at Maine Medical Center in Portland. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The family was forced to self-quarantine and could have no contact with their father during this challenging stretch.

“We wanted to be there and hold his hand and talk to him in person, tell him everything was going to be OK. Not being able to see him was difficult,” Ashley said.

She credits the nursing staff at Maine Medical Center in Portland for helping her set up a conference call with her dad. Though he was still unable to speak, Ashley, her mother and two sisters finally had the chance to reassure him and tell him how they felt. The nurses asked Pete to blink his eyes if he understood what his family had said. They told Ashley that her dad did blink.

But the combination of dealing with her father’s illness and continuing her nursing studies was taking an emotional toll on Ashley. Just weeks from graduation, she considered quitting nursing school, but she credits her fellow classmates and the CMCC faculty for giving her the strength to continue.

“As if the fourth semester of nursing school isn’t hard enough, add into the mix the changes required because of COVID 19 — going to an online format for class; virtual simulation for clinical — including preparation for the licensure examination and that would be enough to challenge the best of students,” said Kathy McManus, the CMCC nursing department’s chairwoman.

“Ashley further had to deal with her father’s illness from COVID-19 and dealing with the unknown (would he live, have physical deficits, would she ever hold his hand again?) She juggled all the priorities, taking each day as it came, meeting the challenges going on in her personal life and the challenges of nursing school,” McManus said.

Ashley’s father was released from the hospital after 23 days. The medical staff applauded him as he left and he received a police escort home where he was welcomed with a parade of cars. He is still recuperating, facing a long road back.

He is walking, talking and still has his sense of humor, Ashley said. Doctors say it could take him up to year to return to some sort of normal.

“He gets easily fatigued,” she said. “You’re talking about a guy who is extremely active and healthy before COVID hit him. But now bouncing back, he might not even reach his baseline functioning from what it was.

Ashley said she is healing emotionally since the ordeal and is looking ahead to the future. Preparing for her boards, she already has a job offer from Maine Medical Center, where she has worked part time as a certified nursing assistant. She and her fiance, Jeremy, live in a log cabin they built in Poland.

“I’m impressed that with all that was going on, she persevered and graduated,” McManus said. “Nurses need to shift priorities hour by hour and sometimes minute by minute. Ashley demonstrated that ability to focus on the task on hand, while juggling priorities as they kept coming up.”

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