While venturing around the Great Minnesota Get-Together last week, I stumbled across a former Owatonna woman helping her friend, Renae Jeno, with her Ole and Lena stand.
Not surprisingly, the workers at Ole and Lena’s were frying up their famous tater tot hotdish on a stick, though at a slower pace than usual with fewer fairgoers coming out this year to the Minnesota State Fair.
Darci Christofferson was one of the workers behind the scenes at Ole and Lena’s. Her family isn’t exactly shy about fairs as her father, Scott Kozelka, manages the Steele County Free Fair.
However, Christofferson has a more interesting story that goes far beyond fairs and deep-fried food. The 1996 graduate of Owatonna High School has been living in Evansville, Ind. the past seven years.
She is a registered nurse who recently has decided to be a traveling nurse. Her most recent assignment was a six-month stint in the COVID unit at a hospital in Indiana that ended in June. “The whole unit was full of COVID patients,” said Christofferson who worked 12-hour shifts trying to help people.
“I saw my fair share of death,” Christofferson said. “People with underlining health conditions… they would be in for a month and couldn’t take it anymore.”
It wasn’t unusual for Christofferson to have patients “struggling to breathe” while caring for them. “It’s scary,” she said. “It’s something you can’t fix right away.”
Christofferson found that the majority of her patients were unvaccinated and younger people.
Before the onset of COVID-19, Christofferson worked as a hospice nurse for three years. While nothing in nursing school prepared her for COVID, she said her work in hospice became beneficial in dealing with families on the verge of losing loved ones.
“It prepared me to have difficult conversations with family,” Christofferson said. “I was able to talk to them about the death process. We did a lot of education with our patients.”
She said the hardest part of dealing with COVID-19 was seeing patients locked in a room and unable to come out. For Christofferson, the worst was a 90-year-old dementia patient. “It was awful,” she said.
And as Christofferson’s best words of advice?
“Wash your hands, wear your mask and get vaccinated if that’s something you want to do,” she said.
While she believes in getting vaccinated, Christofferson is careful about mandating people to do it. “I would never tell people what to do with their body,” she said, adding it’s a personal choice.
Before becoming a nurse, Christofferson served for eight years in the U.S. Navy. Her 19-year-old son is following in her footsteps. He is currently in Navy boot camp.
Christofferson begins another travel nurse contract with St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester later this month. But this time, she will not be in the COVID unit but rather the general medical unit.
She said she loves to be a traveling nurse because she can pick wherever she wants to work. Christofferson works with a recruiter who gives her options of where she can work.
Christofferson plans to move back to Owatonna within the next six months.
As for the State Fair, it was just what the doctor ordered, said Christofferson. She got to have some fun cooking utater tot hotdish and onion rings while helping out a friend in need.
We owe our gratitude to nurses like Christofferson, who have been going in hot pursuit of helping us fight the worst pandemic in a century.