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Letters of gratitude pour into UVa's COVID unit

Letters of thanks, drawings and snacks have poured into the COVID-19 unit at the University of Virginia Medical Center since the start of the pandemic locally.

The COVID-19 unit, officially known as the Special Pathogens Unit, opened April 2 in the new hospital tower and has since taken over a few floors. Visitors are restricted on the unit except for in end-of-life situations, so the notes and drawings have been a way for the community to show its appreciation of those on the front lines of the pandemic.

“It’s very encouraging to the staff to see these little things when they come in,” said Cheryl Martin, the health unit coordinator. “… It’s so much of an encouragement to the nurses because they get really fatigued.”

Martin has worked during her weekend shifts to try to keep track of the cards, drawings and other donations over the last eight months. At first, she said, they tried to write thank you notes for those who gave food and other items.

“We couldn’t keep up with it,” Martin said. “It was just too much. When you’re on the COVID unit, it’s just nonstop the whole day long.”

Eventually, they started sending a photo of the food or donated items to the person or group to confirm they received the goods.

Martin said she wanted to share the notes and highlight the community’s contributions as a way to say thank you to everyone who has helped the unit.

“We do appreciate everything,” she said. “… The community has thanked us, but we need to thank them too. It’s like hand in hand.”

To keep the medical staff energized, Martin said Grit Coffee has provided coffee weekly to the unit, which they keep in the freezer until it’s needed.

“If they didn’t send the coffee, we wouldn’t have coffee unless a staff member brings it in and we all share it, but it disappears so quick,” she said. “Grit Coffee has stood with us from day one.”

Martin has kept the drawings from area children and cards sent to the unit’s staff.

The stack, compiled over the last several months, includes a rendering of an angry coronavirus; a simple “Thank You for Fixing People” written on a white sheet of paper accompanied by a smiling face and two elongated hearts; and a rainbow fish on yellow construction paper encouraging the staff to “just keep swimming” and that “you can do this.”

Throughout the stack, there’s a theme. The nurses, doctors and hospital staff who showed up to care for COVID patients are brave and working hard to keep the community safe.

“You are a hero, doctors and nurses,” one multi-colored note written in crayon read.

Other cards came from families who had loved ones in the unit. They thanked the staff for their life-saving work and shared updates about those who were then recovering at home.

Families of COVID-19 patients also sent food, which Martin found mind-boggling.

“All we’re doing is talking with them by telephone, but they’re so appreciative,” she said.

Other community groups and businesses have provided food for the unit, along with notes of encouragement. Girl Scouts dropped off boxes and boxes of cookies. Auntie Anne’s, Victory Church, Farmington Country Church, Common House and others provided meals to keep the staff fed, Martin said.

During her shifts, she would get the calls from downstairs that a food delivery had arrived and then bring it up to the SPU staff.

“Boy, when food shows up, it’s just such a magnet for the nurses when they do get a minute to take a break, which is very rare,” she said. “They just appreciate it.”

The Table Church sent meals every Friday for three months, she said. Another church sent homemade cookies in the shape of a doctor’s body with a stethoscope.

“It’s just been so much support,” Martin said. “… The community, they’ve been there. When these little notes come in, it’s just amazing. It does so much, and we appreciate people being there and thinking of us.”


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