ACR Bulletin

Covering topics relevant to the practice of radiology

Something We Take Home

Two RTs discuss their experience working at a busy ER during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic — and how they uplifted each other and their community during their darkest days.
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Founded in 1920, the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) is commemorating its centennial anniversary with a year-long series of initiatives that pay tribute to the organization’s seminal role in shaping the radiologic sciences and promoting the advancement of RTs. Throughout the year, ASRT is highlighting its mission to elevate the medical imaging and radiation therapy profession and enhance the quality and safety of patient care. The association’s centennial web page uses an animated, interactive timeline to chart the milestones that shaped the profession and includes information and facts about the history of the world’s largest radiologic science association. Learn more about the centennial at

September 30, 2020
As the American Society of Radiologic Technologists celebrates its 100th anniversary, the Bulletin is featuring RTs going above and beyond for their patients and colleagues. Two such RTs, Cindy Kunkel, RT (R), and Kim Stricker, RT (R), spoke with the Bulletin about their experiences working in the busy ER at Tower Health Reading Hospital in Pennsylvania during the peak of the pandemic — and the poem they wrote together that brought them into the national spotlight.
How was working at the 10th busiest ER in Pennsylvania a different experience during the peak of the pandemic?
KS: I’ve never experienced anything close to this. What made it so different from past events was just the unknown of it. Nobody really knew what we were dealing with or what to expect. Our flu season is usually bad in Pennsylvania — our ICUs get pretty full. So we were  waiting, wondering, “How serious is this — is it going to be like the flu season? Or is it going to be worse?” One day we’d be told, “Okay, do this,” and then the next day, “No, no, no, actually you need to do this!” We wondered, is this our new normal? There were a lot of uncertainties and we were just dealing with it all the best we could, given what we knew at the time.
CK: We annually do 70,000 procedures in our ER. The interesting thing is our ER became very empty at the beginning of the pandemic, so we went from being busy to having a lot of downtime. We did see many COVID- 19 patients, mostly doing portable chest X-rays, but other patients did not come to the ER. With the statewide shutdown in place, all of a sudden there were no car accidents, falls, etc. People were afraid to come to the ER. I have been working in radiology for 39 years and have never experienced anything like this. It was a very strange time.
It was definitely very stressful in the beginning, watching what was happening in New York and worrying if we were going to experience the same volume or if we were going to get sick and take it home to our families. We were receiving updates about hospital guidelines in the morning and the afternoon. Things were changing constantly. However, the worst thing was watching very sick patients being admitted to the hospital without their families, and knowing their families would not be allowed in with them.


What prompted you both to write the poem, Corona?

KS: Well, we’d written one for Christmas about two years ago. Then one day in the midst of the pandemic we were talking — I was feeling frustrated and overwhelmed with everything we were going through. We said, “You know, we need something funny and uplifting.” So we just decided, “Let’s write a poem about our experience right now.” And we did! It was something fun and positive to do during a time when there was a lot of anxiety and so much was unknown.

What were some of the lessons you learned following the first COVID-19 surge?

KS: We definitely learned a lot from our experience with PPE, as many facilities did. We learned how to disinfect better and to extend our cleaning protocols to things like our portable equipment. And schedule-wise, we learned how to handle the volume very well — spreading out our patients in the ICUs and making sure our staff members were safe.

Do you have advice for how radiologists and RTs can work together better, particularly during the ongoing pandemic?

KS: I feel like we have a great working relationship with our radiologists. In general, we appreciate it when radiologists are understanding of extenuating circumstances if/when we can’t get the best possible images. We’re in aprons, covered in equipment, many of us are doing portable chest X-rays where patients are prone and on cooling blankets, and we’re trying not to move them because they’re so sick. We do our best to collect the best possible image — but sometimes we get what we get.

Also, try to remember to be kind to and compassionate with your frontline colleagues. You never know what they may have had to experience in a particular day. For example, at our hospital, a lot of people have had to watch their family members pass away via FaceTime. So our nurses faced the unimaginable task of facilitating a FaceTime call between a dying patient and their loved ones. It was heartbreaking. But they were so compassionate in terms of helping these families get some sort of closure. I’ve seen an RT sit with a patient so they didn’t have to die alone. Seeing these patients and their family members, knowing that’s the last memory they have together — it’s sad for us too. It’s something we take home. That’s what we wanted to showcase by sharing our poem with the world: when we come to work, we work together, and we do the best we can.


Author Interview by Cary Coryell,  publications specialist, ACR Press