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A frontline UVa nurse takes in Mother's Day weekend with appreciation

Mother’s Day started early this year for Theresa “TJ” Lovdal.

“My son made me a sweet sunflower card that he couldn’t wait to give me this morning,” Lovdal said Friday. “[He and my husband] are turning today and tomorrow into Mother’s Day and then Sunday we’ll pretend it’s not Mother’s Day and go to the hospital. That’s part of being a nurse.”

Lovdal is on the frontlines of the pandemic. She works in a specialized intensive care unit at the University of Virginia Medical Center caring for COVID-19 patients. The job, stressful and scary, has been empowering, she said, as she and her coworkers comfort patients who have no one else around due to visitor restrictions.

“We’re all proud to be fighting this,” the Lake Monticello resident said. “… It’s beautiful to be able to be there for those patients, but we all want it to go away.”

Time with her 7-year-old son, Elias, and husband, Michael, and finding little things to be thankful for have helped Lovdal to cope with the anxiety and stress of the job. On a typical Mother’s Day, when the weather is nice, she said the family might take a hike and have a picnic or she and her mom might go to an area winery.

“It will look a little different this year, but I think my boys are going to cook me a nice breakfast tomorrow morning, and we’ll just have a nice three-of-us family day,” she said.

Lovdal said she also hopes to drop off presents for her mother, who lives a street away. To kick off this year’s celebration Friday, they turned to a family tradition — movie night.

“We take the mattress from our guest room and put it on the living room floor, bring out all the pillows and blankets and order pizza,” she said. “… Having that sense of normalcy at home has been super helpful to be able to look forward to and come back to.”

Having Michael at home, as he’s been telecommuting, has been a blessing, Lovdal said, but because she and her husband work full-time, homeschooling Elias has been a challenge.

“I’m tired,” she said. “It’s very challenging to be working full-time and not just as a nurse, but anybody working full-time and having kids, because there is this expectation to homeschool. We don’t always have the capacity to do that. I’ve been doing my best.”

The Fluvanna County school division has sent packets home, and Elias is eager to get them done, Lovdal said. Outside of that school work, they’ve worked to turn everyday activities, such as reading an analog clock, into teaching lessons.

“He’s been helping me cook and you can turn that into a math lesson with the measuring cups and things like that,” she said.

Elias has been handling the transition to school at home well, playing a slew of games with his dad.

“They play Harry Potter, Legos and superheroes — all kinds of things,” Lovdal said. “[Michael] keeps him really engaged with that, which is great.”

In early March, they discussed whether Lovdal, who has worked for UVa for 10 years, should live somewhere else while stationed on the COVID unit but instead devised a plan to quarantine her at home if necessary.

“We really don’t know when this is going to end, and if there’s going to be another surge,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s really practical to not live with my family.”

Plus, she has confidence in the personal protective equipment at the hospital. In her unit, every three patients have a coach who supervises the process of donning and doffing the equipment, which includes a gown, gloves, goggles and mask.

“I feel really safe with that process,” Lovdal said. “I don’t feel any more at risk at work than I do going to the grocery store.”

At home, she leaves her shoes outside, washes her scrubs immediately and takes a shower before exchanging any hugs with her family.

“They know — don’t touch Mommy,” she said.

When Lovdal’s not working, she’s intentional with how she spends her time off and tries to stay off social media.

“That’s one of the biggest struggles I think for health care workers,” she said. “We live it all day when we are at work and then when we leave, we want to just chill out and look at my Instagram feed or look at Facebook. [But] it’s full of everyone’s opinions about what’s going on in the world. You feel like you can’t escape it.”

Lovdal said she’s inspired by her coworkers at the Medical Center who are facing fears related to the virus and showing up to work anyway.

“Even the bravest among us, even the most experienced among us, we’re still scared of this,” she said. “It doesn’t discriminate. It will knock anybody down. That’s scary, and these people have been showing up day after day after day. It’s been phenomenal.”

As the community has recognized the sacrifices of health care workers and stepped up to provide meals and treats, Lovdal said she feels spoiled.

“We eat very well every day, so I’m sure Mother’s Day will be no different.”


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