FYI – This post will NOT cover the following mask-based material:
Politically charged discussion re: mask availability/approval (though it’s no doubt mixed messages and misinformation are leading players in the delayed decision to recommend them.)
Controversial discourse regarding public access to masks and healthcare professionals shortage. (though trust me, it’s caused me a significant amount of heartburn.)
Heartfelt pleas, imploring you to wear a mask, based on my firsthand witness of ongoing tragedies. (though each shift bears more testimony that masking vigilance is necessary. And OK, there may be an overture or two within.)
The following is an examination of human behaviors and relations, of judgment and compassion, and tracks my evolution from mask-critic to humble mask-aholic.
Working Nurse recently published my article detailing a day in the life of an ICU nurse caring for patients with Covid19. My words were as authentic as possible while being cognizant of the public platform and sensitive nature of the content. (It could be helpful to read that article FIRST to best understand!)
Healthcare is a rapidly evolving system, and in times of Pandemic, the rate of change is unparalleled. By the time the article hit the internet, many of my observations were already out of date. As I read it today, I think to myself, this was obviously written before.
Before is a mentality I imagine you can appreciate.
Before Coronavirus, I could go to the movies. Before the pandemic, I could engage in group-hugs. I used to buy toilet paper anytime, anywhere; but that was before.
For me, a nurse in a medical ICU, BEFORE was an era in which the virus was evident at work but I wasn’t personally affected. Each shift was increasingly intense and surreal, but otherwise, life went on as normal. “Covid” patients were sequestered to a few specific rooms and my personal concerns were compartmentalized right along with them.
Our department was at near capacity with Covid-positive patients.
our dwindling PPE supply – masks, gloves, and face shields – were placed in a locked room and rationed while staff use shower curtains and hand-sewn masks as replacements
Visitors were restricted from the hospital campus in its entirety.
Short staffing and the quantity of the patients made it impossible to have a secondary/observer RN to help. We now put on/take off our PPE, disinfect our supplies alone and generally have 2:1 assignments (2 patients to one nurse) – patients this critically ill were always a 1:1 assignment before.
I composed that paper before I had lived through the solitary dread of being the only caregiver in a room with a crashing patient; sweating through my scrubs and paper gown, my view obstructed through a bleach-smeared face shield. Colleagues stood pensively outside the glass door, offering support via walkie-talkies, prepared to enter but waiting until the crucial moment. For the sake of staff safety, and to preserve PPE, we must question: does this require a second set of hands? Is this moment worth the use of our equipment?
In the past week, my role has changed drastically. My nursing scope has expanded to include phlebotomy (drawing labs), housekeeping, and respiratory therapist skills. We’re taking all measures necessary to decrease exposure to Coronavirus, and to preserve protective gear. A nurse is one essential person that must enter the room multiple times a shift. Therefore, the decision has been made to require nurses a multitude of tasks that others would normally do. While decreasing how many people are exposed, this increases exposure to the nurse.
Finally, the article was penned long before I understood the evolving nature of the virus, worked desperately and yet futilely to care for and save patients in their early 40s. Before I woke to the news that doctors and nurses are contracting and dying of Coronavirus too.
My original article just doesn’t express my present day-to-day as a nurse on the front lines.
My new reality.
Across the globe, everyone is coping with their own version of this new normal. Struggling to make sense of this; to stay sane. So many of us are hurting – physically, emotionally, financially.