Photos by Kara Thorpe
“They’re focused. They’re very focused. When they want something, they go for it. And they both have a lot of stamina.”
COVID-19 is not sisters Natasha Lorenzen and Jessica Ross’s first emergency. For years, individually and as a team, the Fauquier County duo has stepped up and served communities in critical need, far away and now more than ever close to home.
“What we really saw in Haiti is the interesting difference between us professionally. I am good at the initial stages of an emergency, I handle super stressful, super chaotic, crazy situations, I’m good at that. But after the initial crisis is over, Jess steps in, and that’s when she really shines,” said Natasha, Battalion Chief at Fauquier County Fire and Rescue, of her younger sister, Jessica, RN, Assistant Director of the ICU at Fauquier Health.
The sisters, raised from early childhood in Fauquier County, have remained in this area to follow their careers and raise their families. They both started at an EMT course at Fauquier High School. Then they put themselves through paramedic certification and nursing school, respectively, and are both thriving, becoming respected leaders in their fields. While they don’t technically work together now, their paths have crossed often, and their relationship involves great mutual respect for each other professionally.
The path that set the girls on this course to careers in the medical and first responder fields began with Natasha. “In high school, I was pretty much not going in a good life direction,” she said. “The school offered a firefighter and EMT program. I took both classes, and I knew as soon as I got involved that was what I wanted to do as a career. To participate in the program, you had to be a volunteer at a fire department to be covered by county insurance, so I joined the New Baltimore Fire Station. When I graduated, I was still too young to be hired anywhere, so I went to paramedic school at GWU. Then I was hired here the year I turned 20.”
“I’ve been at the Fire Department almost 20 years, and I’m Battalion Chief now. We’ve seen it all. Literally everything. People call us when they don’t know what else to do. So we deal with everything from infant deaths, to airlifting victims of horrific car crashes, to delivering babies, to fires, to flooded basements, to cats in trees. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s really awful, but that’s what we sign up for. I work well in a little bit of chaos, it keeps me energized and motivated. I’m good at it,” said Natasha, who lives with her husband David and children Ryder and Zoe on a sprawling, remote homestead in Stephens City.
She continued, “During a big snowstorm, I ran a call to Turnbull for a baby with asthma who couldn’t breathe and was really teetering on the edge. The ambulance had slid off the road and was stuck. I had been working for a couple of days straight by that time, but we headed out in a pickup truck. When we finally got there, we had to treat the baby in the bed of the pickup truck in the snow. We transported her to the hospital in the truck, since the ambulance couldn’t get there, and she was doing really well by the time we arrived.”
Jessica followed in Natasha’s footsteps, taking the EMT course and joining the New Baltimore Fire Department as a volunteer during high school. She said, “Then it just grew. I loved it. It kind of pushed me in the direction of nursing. I worked as an EMT at the Fauquier County Jail for a year while I was in nursing school at Lord Fairfax Community College. I went to Charlottesville to work for a year, then I came back to Fauquier Health and I’ve been here ever since. I love working in Fauquier. Being in a small community, you have more patient interaction and can establish a connection. You really feel like you’re making a difference.”
Natasha said, “One thing about Jess that I think a lot of people don’t consider is that in her line of work, caring for her patients medically is only about 50 percent of her job. The other part is caring for the patients’ families. In the ICU, she has patients who are incredibly sick whose families are terrified. They’re stressed and confused. In addition to being extremely competent medically, Jess is very good at making them feel cared for, instilling confidence, and explaining medical situations clearly. The family has to know that she cares about them and about their loved one; that part is extremely important to her.”
“It’s hard for me to juggle sometimes being in a leadership position and being at the bedside,” said Jess, who lives in Amissville with her husband Brett and daughter Skylar. “That’s what gives me the reward and joy for everything. That is the highlight for me.”
Helping in Haiti
“I had always wanted to do medical mission work,” said Jessica. “When I came back to Fauquier I heard of this physician, Dr. Kornetsky, who had started a group of physicians and nurses that opened a clinic in Haiti. Right after the earthquake [in 2010], I chased him down the hallway of the hospital. He let me go that first time, and I’ve been going back every year.”
After the earthquake, some contaminated water was donated to Haiti by another country. It resulted in a cholera epidemic that ravaged the country. That year, Natasha decided to go also. They formed a group with some other nurses and a paramedic from the fire department, and headed down.
Natasha said, “It’s a different type of medical care down there. It’s very limited. You kind of work with what you have, and you’re kind of like a jack of all trades. In the US, you need classes and certifications and degrees to work in the medical field. There, it’s just the opposite. There are no rules. They just assume that because you’re there you know what you’re doing. So I got some experience doing things that I wouldn’t normally be doing here, like suturing up a kid who had split his leg open in a motorcycle crash.”
She continued, “In Haiti, I really saw Jess in action. She was truly caring for these kids who came in to us, and reassuring them and their parents, when none of us even spoke the language. We had a baby come in with very bad burns when she spilled boiling water on herself. Jess just took over and took care of her, cleaning the burns, dressing them, and giving her doses of antibiotics. You know, I have no idea what doses of antibiotics to give to burned pediatric patients. But she was on it. She knew what she was doing and she’s calm and efficient about it. She truly is caring and compassionate.”
Jess said, “Natasha has the natural ability to have fun and make friends everywhere she goes. From the first day there, she jumped into the clinic work, but attracted all the kids around the clinic too. She laughed, played, and hiked with them. She befriended members of not just the clinic team but of the Haitian community there, leading to invitations for dinner, events, and games. She always makes it so much more of an adventure.”
Today, the Coronavirus is touching both sister’s jobs, putting them both — and their families — at risk. Neither can stay home and quarantine.
“We’ve been busy,” said Jess. “People don’t want to come to the hospital because of the virus; they wait until they’re very sick, so some end up coming to us in the ICU. Throughout the whole industry, this is a learning curve for us. It’s new. It’s changing daily, so we’re constantly updating procedures, staying up on new recommendations and studies. Because we’ve been so busy, I’ve been doing more hands-on patient care, which is what I really love to do. I’ve had some long days, but we have a great team. Like nurses everywhere, we’re at risk of exposure. Some are afraid to go home to their families. There are nurses who haven’t seen their kids in a month. It’s definitely a different world.”
With the strict visitation policies, it’s hard on the patients and families, too. She said, “Every time I have to tell someone they can’t see their family member, it gets harder and harder. But we do everything we can. We take our phones in and we FaceTime with the patient’s family while we’re in the room. We reassure the families as much as possible that they can trust us, that their loved one won’t be alone. One of us will be there with them all the time. It’s the hardest thing in this, but it’s so important.”
Natasha is busy too, but in a different way.
“Interestingly enough, our call volume has actually gone way down. People are really not wanting to go to the hospital when they really don’t need to, and they’re staying home more. Administratively, we have been much, much busier trying to prepare things appropriately and keep up with the CDC and World Health Organization. I literally have 27 tabs open on my computer at any one time, and all of them are about staying up on the latest recommendations. We monitor every single patient that we transport to the hospital. We make sure that nobody’s tested positive, and if they have, we have to go back and take appropriate measures. We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.”