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Heroes in the Community: Honey Bee Olivia Williams

From the Sidelines at Games to Frontlines against COVID-19

By Sam Perley

Balancing her first year out of UNC School of Nursing with being a professional NBA dancer has been a challenging, although rewarding experience for Honey Bee Olivia Williams. Lots of late nights compounded with early mornings can mean little sleep at times, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“It’s definitely challenging during the season, especially when we have multiple games and practices in the same week,” she said. “We don’t get out of practice until 10 PM most of the time and sometimes later. Then I have to be right back up at 5 AM to get ready for work. This is my second season with the Hornets and joining the team ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.” 

Having danced since age six, Williams wasn’t ready to give up her passion after finishing her undergrad a few years ago. She spent time dancing with the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Checkers before joining the Honey Bees at the start of the 2018-19 NBA season. 

But ever since the NBA was suspended on March 11 in response to the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic, it’s been all work for Williams on the frontlines as an operating room nurse at a local hospital. Life is as unpredictable as it’s ever been in the medical community and she’s been thrust right into the middle of it. 

“I work 12-hour shifts every other day, so my day off is recuperating and recovering to be ready for the next night,” she said. “Before all this happened, I had a set schedule. I knew when I’d be working, how long I’d be working, so this is different. When you get to work now, you don’t really know what you’re going to be doing necessarily.”

She added, “With elective surgeries being canceled right now – we usually have 50-60 surgeries a day – and now, we may have 10 or 12. That’s a big difference and they’re redeploying us on the floors to help out with patients. Floor nursing is so different from operating room nursing, mainly because your patients are awake. It’s a different skillset and can be a little stressful, but we’re all nurses in the end and we just help each other out.”  

While Williams isn’t directly dealing with COVID-19 diagnosed patients on a daily basis, working in a hospital still requires her to be constantly proactive and aware of her surroundings.  

“When you’re in the hospitals, you don’t really know if you’re exposed to it or not. At my hospital, we have a floor that just has COVID-19 patients on it. If you get assigned to that floor, then you’re directly handling people with the illness. The downside is if you’re in the ER, you don’t know if you’re with COVID patients until they get tested. 

Work life has been trying lately for Williams, but she’s learned a lot about herself personally throughout this process. Navigating the pandemic has also been easier thanks to a strong support system around her, bringing with it a much-needed appreciation to first responders in the medical world as well.

“I think I’m a lot stronger mentally than I thought I was,” she said. “All of this can take a toll on you. You start to think, ‘Did I touch my face? Did I wash my hands enough?’ You start to second guess things and you realize not to take anything for granted. But you’re also seeing how our healthcare community and how our world can come together to make sure everyone is being as safe as possible.”

“I thankfully have a really good support system. I’ve been getting a lot of texts and phone calls from friends and family just reaching out to check up on me. Honestly, I don’t think people really knew exactly what nurses did before all of this happened. It’s definitely brought our profession to light more. A 12-hour shift on your feet all day is kind of crazy and sometimes, it ends up being a 14 or 16-hour shift. On top of wearing N95 masks, everybody has been way more appreciative and you can definitely feel that.” 

Shifting back and forth between nurse and dancer during the season took some adjustment, but the latter provided Williams with an expressive outlet in comparison to her often times hectic full-time occupation. 

“Being an OR nurse definitely has its stressors. Let’s face it, surgery is stressful! You have to make sure everything is clean and sterile and done by the book because you don’t want anything to happen to your patient. Your mind is constantly racing and you have to be so focused,” she said. “When I go to practice or gamedays, they’re just so fun. Yes, we still have to think because we’re dancing, interacting with fans and doing stuff in the community, but it’s definitely a breath of fresh air and a time to relax.”

While society is itching for sports and a sense of normalcy in general to return, it’s still vital to keep in mind the brave doctors and nurses like Olivia Williams who are fighting daily amidst challenging circumstances to make that hope an imminent reality.  

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