It seems like the only thing I do these days is scroll through social media in a desperate attempt to gain information. My phone has called me out on my screen time more than once, and I just continue to ignore it. You're probably in the same boat — stuck at home, scrolling deeper and deeper into a hole of conspiracy theories and possible "back to normalcy" dates, hungry for information.
While we know that the news is not our mental health's friend these days, getting reliable information is helpful and necessary.
While the rest of us are home on our phones, healthcare workers are on the coronavirus (COVID-19) front line every single day. They see what we read snippets of, quickly gaining the perspective that we couldn't fathom. That's why we're going to the root of the information — these healthcare workers who put their own safety at risk every single day.
Today, I sat down (virtually) with Dee, an ICU nurse in Orlando, Florida.
How long have you been a nurse?
I have been an ICU nurse for three years.
What is your hospital's procedure in regard to COVID-19 patient care?
Every patient is tested for COVID-19 on admission and prior to any surgical procedures. A patient is placed on COVID precautions and deemed a PUI (person under investigation) until test results reveal that they are negative. Every code blue event is conducted as if the patient was COVID-positive, which requires the usage of proper PPE due to the risk of aerosolization and exposure.
What is the protocol if you (or another nurse) were to show signs of infection?
Every employee and visitor has to be screened before the entrance to the hospital and if an employee has shown signs or symptoms (fever, shortness of breath, cough, etc.) they are expected to follow up with the employee clinic and be tested. They are also required to be quarantined for a specific duration and be retested/cleared before returning to work.
Do you have enough PPE?
My hospital has done an amazing job of making sure that employees have the proper gear that is necessary to care for this patient population. Due to the surgical department being temporarily closed for elective surgeries, they provided surgical scrubs that were sterilized after each use, along with half-mask respirators, face shields, surgical caps, etc., to the staff directly caring for COVID patients.
What is the biggest change your day-to-day has faced because of COVID-19?
The biggest change for me was not being able to visit friends or family, due to my "exposure" to these patients. My way of coping from hardship from work is being able to socialize with my peers and partake in fun activities to decompress from stressful situations. It was a hard adjustment for me emotionally and mentally to have to deal with these conditions alone and not have the comfort of companionship available to me due to these circumstances. Thankfully, my hospital has provided its employees with available counselors and chaplains that we're able to pray and talk with the staff about ways we can cope with how we're dealing with what is transpiring.
If you were to describe your hospital's atmosphere in one word, what would it be?
Evolving. There has been a multitude of changes and policy revisions that have been in effect since this pandemic. As new information comes available, the hospital executives have been taking the initiative to keep their employees safe, as well as, doing their best to adjust to the "new norm." As a nurse, some of these career characteristics include, "flexibility, teamwork, dependability and trust," which are qualities we have all been successfully presenting within these last few months of modifications.
How do you feel about the national news coverage of COVID-19?
My personal opinion about the news is that it can be very overwhelming to the public, especially to those without a medical background. The severity of the disease is as accurate as mentioned on the news.
Having to deal with these patients directly and witnessing the effect the virus had on each person was concerning. During that time of being a COVID nurse, there were days I went into work anxious about whether or not I would contract the disease, did I properly "don" and "doff" my PPE, did I wash my hands for 20 seconds before exiting the room, did I accidentally touch my face, did I sanitize my shoes or my phone before using it, and so many other thoughts that ran through my mind at the end of my shift.
What is one thing you wish you could tell the country about COVID-19?
One thing that I wish I could tell the country is that the virus does not discriminate. I've had friends that lost family members from this virus, I've watched fellow healthcare workers battle this disease, I've witnessed and prayed with families crying over the death of their loved ones via Skype because visitors were not allowed on the COVID unit under any circumstances.
The year 2020 has been deemed "year of the nurse" because not only did we get a week of appreciation, but we received months of "thank yous" and support from our communities. The public was able to see for themselves via social media, that with the help of our medical team we not only "pass meds" or "give bed baths," but we put our lives on the line to make sure that you can safely return to your family.
Are there any stories of hope you can share with us?
We've had more success in being able to extubate and "downgrade" patients to a unit of a lesser acuity level, which implies that their health has improved. Our COVID patient population numbers decreased which allowed us to be able to only revert to one COVID specific unit.
What advice can you give us for staying as healthy as possible?
Continue to follow CDC's recommendation in regards to social distancing, practice hand hygiene, wearing a mask in closed-in areas, continue to take the appropriate actions to build your immune system, disinfect commonly touched areas and items (cellphone, steering wheel, etc.), cough or sneeze into the crease of your elbow, wash hands before touching your face, take off your outside clothes before sitting on your furniture.
What can citizens in your area do to help healthcare workers fight COVID-19?
Working in that stressful environment causes you to be mentally and physically exhausted that it is easy to unconsciously neglect your own health. One thing that was very helpful and generous of our community was providing food for our staff. There were times that outside vendors would provide coffee and bagels for breakfast, lunch for the day shift, and dinner for the night shift. It was nice to know that we were appreciated and that our hard work was not being overlooked.
If you are a healthcare professional interested in sharing your story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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