Megan Tenbarge photographed by Chuck Allen

Megan Tenbarge

I’m hopeful,” Megan Tenbarge says. “Just even hearing Doctor Fauci say it’s nice for him to work for an organization that believes in science and is using the numbers and believing them makes me hopeful things are improving.” Tenbarge, a neurological/neurosurgery ICU nurse at one of the city’s major research hospitals regularly sees patients and hospital staff affected by COVID-19.

“I think what’s hard is that nurses are seeing the worst things COVID can do, and there are still so many people refusing to believe it, or not wanting to wear a mask or even having the attitude ‘I don’t care if I get it,’ Tenbarge says. “Nurses see that it’s not just going to affect just you. It affects us, our work, other patients who need care, and nurses get sick too, so there are staffing problems, and it impacts the whole system. Some burnout in nursing typically does happen, because what we do is really hard just generally, but I think burnout happens at a quicker rate during a pandemic.”

Tenbarge sees personal responsibility, respect for others, and empathy as keys to ending the pandemic. That translates to following COVID protocols like wearing a mask and getting vaccinated. As a healthcare worker, Tenbarge got her shots in the first rollout and was fully vaccinated by January. “I’m very thankful to have gotten the vaccine,” she says. That made me feel a sense of relief going to work, just knowing that I’m a little more protected. But I didn’t get the vaccine specifically for myself. I got the vaccine to protect my family members, friends, colleagues, my patients. I also wanted to lead by example, for my profession, just for everybody, just to be a part of the solution.”

Tenbarge actually contracted COVID early in the pandemic before vaccines were available. She got it from an asymptomatic patient in the neuro-ICU whose first rapid test for COVID had come back negative. By the time the second PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test results arrived and Tenbarge was alerted, she’d been caring for the patient for most of her shift. Her own symptoms were not severe, thankfully. “I was in bed for three or four days and felt like crap. I definitely lost my sense of taste and smell,” she says. “The worst things were fatigue and a stuffy nose.”

Megan Tenbarge photographed by Chuck Allen
“A lot of people don’t understand how to have empathy. You should just try to put yourself in somebody else’s position. If everyone could just be respectful of other people, then this would be over sooner.”

Tenbarge and her husband Spencer moved to Nashville straight out of college to begin their careers five years ago (he’s a commercial real estate inspector). They bought a house and settled down in Inglewood two years ago. She started an in-person graduate program in 2019 at Belmont University to become a nurse practitioner. A semester later, she was attending classes via Zoom, thanks to the pandemic. “I chose Belmont for many reasons, but a big one is because it’s all in person, or was. So I loved the program, and that was really important to me to be in class learning,” she says. They’ve been on Zoom for a year now, she says, with really small, socially distanced groups in person for labs and clinicals. Tenbarge is hoping that as students and faculty get vaccinated, they’ll be able to move to fully in-person classes later this spring.

We may be finally putting the pandemic behind us, says Tenbarge, but she wants to see COVID hospitalizations continue to decline and vaccination rates continue to rise. She wishes leadership at the state and federal levels would have been more proactive earlier on. “Just at least putting in a statewide mask mandate would make it look like you’re trying help things out,” she says.

“A lot of people don’t understand how to have empathy. You should just try to put yourself in somebody else’s position. If everyone could just be respectful of other people, then this would be over sooner.”