As the Coronavirus disease continues to accelerate, New York State has over 32,966 reported cases. The virus which is now considered a global pandemic has completely changed the structure of the world we live in. Many people have lost their jobs due to government shutdowns, and others have been forced into isolation and remote work for their own protection.
While many Americans have the opportunity to work from home and stay clear of the disease, our healthcare professionals on the front lines are out there continuing to sacrifice their health and safety for the greater good. Healthcare workers are facing hazardous conditions daily including fatigue from long hours, mental distress, pathogen exposure and a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). We sat down with two of our nurses and spoke to them about their experience and what they are going through during this unprecedented situation.
Registered Nurse for 9 years, ER and ICU
Monroe County, NY
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Amy. We know you are busy and wanted to also say thank you for continuing to go to work each day and put your patients first especially during these uncertain times.
What was it that originally attracted you to become a Nurse? – “I had a really difficult labor with my son and the nurse was phenomenal, she made me want to become a nurse.”
So, are you a labor and delivery nurse? – “No ha-ha, I work in the ER and ICU. I actually used to work a step-down unit, and I had floated down to the ICU. The things they were doing down there were really cool. I liked the way they were treating people and using ventilators, it all just set off something inside of me. So, I put in a transfer and got reassigned down to the ICU and I’ve been there for almost two years.”
What is the current situation like in your hospital surrounding COVID-19? – “They set up tents outside to test for COVID-19. It’s my understanding that if they [patients] are just sick, but can manage their symptoms at home, they are tested and released. If they require higher levels of care, they are tested and admitted. Last I heard, they had cleared out one unit and could possibly clear out another unit to be able to dedicate that to COVID rule outs and positive patients. In all honesty, it seems like people are heeding the advice [of Governor Cuomo] and they are staying home. So, what I am noticing right now, is we are not getting any boarded patients because they are going straight upstairs to the open floors. In the meantime, I’ve been in the main ER just helping the nurses with their tasks.
Have you seen many cases in your hospital, or do you know anyone who has personally contracted the disease? – No, so far, we have only had one patient who has been tested that needs to be ruled out. However, I suspect this is the calm before the storm and the other nurses agree, we are going to get a huge wave of people who are going to be COVID positive very soon.
Is there a supply shortage in your hospital? – What’s happening right now is that each nurse is given a pair of nice, solid plastic goggles. Unfortunately, you only get one pair, but this is fine because they can be sanitized. At the beginning of every shift, we go over to where our charge (nurse) sits to get our mask for that shift. We only get one per shift which is not great. You should not be wearing one mask all day, but unfortunately that’s where we are right now. As far supplies, they are feeling like we are okay. The hospital has reached out to the community to get any available PPE equipment that they can. Luckily, they do at least have some resources to draw from, but that’s our current situation.
What precautions are you and your fellow healthcare workers taking to protect yourselves? – Even if we are not in direct contact with a COVID patient, we are always instructed to be wearing our mask and goggles and obviously, we frequently wash our hands. Something that is kind of cool is that our pharmacy is now making their own hand sanitizer so, we shouldn’t have a situation where we run out. On rule out rooms the current recommendation is eye protection, contact precaution, meaning gown, gloves and a surgical mask. If you are intubating, then you need to wear an N95 mask. Unfortunately, my understanding is that there aren’t enough N95s to go around. With the positive COVIDs up on the dedicated floor, they are wearing the masks with the respirator and the battery packs, because everyone got trained on that.
What motivates you to continue to go to work every day during this time? Are you concerned at all for your safety? – I’m sitting here right now watching Governor Cuomo talk about the Coronavirus and looking at the numbers and I’ve been watching a lot of the specials on the pandemics that we have had around the world. Am I concerned that I’m going to get it and bring it home to my family? Absolutely, but am I going to panic? No, panic causes mass hysteria and look at what has happened already; who could have seen a toilet paper shortage coming? I didn’t go out and panic buy, so for me to go to the store and get a loaf of bread because we ran out is difficult. Right now, I just come home, I immediately take a shower and my clothes go directly into the washer. I’m always cautious and it’s always in the back of my head. It’s not whether I will be exposed at some point, it’s when and I’ve reasoned with myself that that’s the case. I am just preparing myself for when it happens. I think about the ramifications it might have on my life when I do get exposed.
What gets me through this is knowing that staying home, staying away from other people and keeping your distance actually works. South Korea seems to have done a really good job containing the pandemic using similar practices to what we are doing in the U.S. I know it’s inconvenient and I know people don’t like it, but it’s what is required right now to stop the spread. And, from what I am seeing, most of our patients are staying home. They’ve heeded the advice and hopefully we won’t be nearly as impacted as New York City.
If you want people reading this to take away one thing from this interview, what would that be? – STAY HOME AND STOP BUYING OUR PPE. Because when you’re sick, I’m not going to be able to take care of you. JUST STAY HOME. Heed the CDC’s advice and only go out for the bare minimum.
Registered Nurse for 8 years, ICU and Radiology
Westchester County, NY
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Ben. We know you are busy and wanted to also say thank you for continuing to go to work each day and put your patients first especially during these uncertain times.
What was it that drew you to nursing? – I used to work in construction and around 2008 when the recession hit, I decided to switch my career to healthcare.
What is the current situation like in your hospital surrounding COVID-19? – So, they are getting ready to raise their capacity by 50%. Every morning at the start of my shift, I am to go in and see if I am being floated to help out during the crisis. I haven’t been floated yet, but it is supposed to start this week depending on how bad it gets.
How has the hospital been preparing for the influx of patients? – All elective procedures have been halted which is one of the reasons why I will be floating. A lot of radiology is considered elective and the need for what I normally do goes down. We also have the tents outside set up for COVID testing.
How have you personally been dealing with the whole situation? What has it been like working on the frontlines? – I would say one of the problems I’m having is trying to stay safe when we don’t have the proper equipment. It’s a big problem. Right now, we are only given one mask per week. I am trying and take it one day at a time. Obviously, I try and make sure myself and my wife both stay safe while we’re working but there are no guarantees. The only person who is responsible for my well-being is myself. When you are at a large hospital, they do what they can to keep you safe, but you need to have common sense and look out for your own well-being too.
So, there’s a supply shortage in your hospital? – Yeah, I think that’s happening everywhere, but it’s definitely a problem. So far, when we’ve had to work with COVID patients or rule out patients they have given us the N95 masks and the right equipment, but for everyday patients we just have our one surgical mask for the week.
What precautions are you and your fellow healthcare workers taking to protect yourselves? – One of the things I’m doing is trying to get my own masks to protect myself. If the hospital runs out or is unable to provide us with PPE, I need to have my own. Within the next week or two, we will see how bad it gets; it’s already started in New York City. We will definitely need those military hospitals that they will be building. I know Governor Cuomo said that if one area starts to get overwhelmed that they will be moving patients around to other hospitals in the state. I’ve seen the tent setups for COVID testing, but we don’t have any field hospitals yet.
What motivates you to continue to go to work every day during this time? Are you concerned at all for your safety? – If nobody is around to take care of people, then the problem will get even worse. If we cannot be protected, unfortunately the risk goes up. Luckily, there is hazard pay for those situations because we need to take care of the people.
Do you know anyone that’s personally been affected by the COVID-19? – Personally, yes, a couple of people. Most of them haven’t gotten the severe disease where they have required ventilators. But, I just read recently that the U.S has the most new cases, so that’s not to say that other people won’t be needing those ventilators.
Do you feel like people are taking this seriously enough? – Where I live, I am noticing that people seem to be listening and staying home. When I am out driving to work, I do notice a lot of the roads are still pretty full, and the grocery stores are still packed with people who are still too close to each other.
If you want people reading this to take away one thing from this interview, what would that be? –Even though it’s not fun to stay home, think of the people whose lives you are helping to save by properly isolating yourself. People need to take this seriously. Think of the grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers or fathers who have had cancer or other underlying health issues, this could kill any of them.
For more information on COVID-19, please visit the trusted resources below:
World Health Organization – https://www.who.int/