What It’s Like to Be a Nurse During a Pandemic

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Photo by Adam Nieścioruk via Unsplash

I have been a nurse for almost ten years, and I’ve never seen anything like the COVID-19 outbreak. I’ve been hearing the news since late December, and by February, events around me started to get canceled. By early March, it became clear that the situation was spiraling out of control.

While some countries sprang into action against the virus, various agencies in the USA seemed to sit on their hands. Widespread testing was not available for months. According to my primary care office, I still can’t get tested, even if I’m exposed to a COVID-19 patient, unless I’m “hospitalized for serious illness.” A drive-up testing center is opening next week, but it’s 90 miles away.

I realize I’m luckier than most. I can still work, unlike so many who have been furloughed or become unemployed.

Many nurses are working in emergency rooms or ICUs without adequate protective equipment. Hospitals are firing staff who speak to the press about the conditions they’re working in. I’ve heard about nurses and doctors who have died after being exposed to COVID-19 at work.

Workplaces have made some changes. For years, I’ve been arguing that I should be able to do some of my administrative work from home. In late March, I was finally given the authorization to pack up my laptop and work from home.

But I also work part-time at a nursing home, and bedside nursing can’t be done remotely. I now can only enter the nursing home from one entrance, and my temperature is checked before my shift. Residents aren’t allowed visitors. Staff are given one surgical mask, and a bag to keep it in when it’s not in use.

I wasn’t too worried at first. Then I saw in the news that many area nursing homes were hit by COVID-19. I know of three local nursing homes that had at least a dozen deaths due to the coronavirus. Many staff got sick, and the National Guard had to come in to help.

Every day, I worry about what could happen. If (or when) COVID-19 hits my workplace, what will happen to the residents? Will we have enough supplies? What will we do when staff calls out? What if I get sick?

I’ve heard about nurses who are living in hotel rooms to keep their families safe. I can’t afford that, so I worry about getting my husband sick. I don’t have any children, so that’s one less worry.

But I really feel that the CDC and other agencies have dropped the ball. They’ve had months to prepare, but many nurses are critically short of personal protective equipment (PPE). The CDC are telling medical staff to use bandanas in place of N95 masks and face shields.

And there don’t seem to be any improvements on the way. Nurses are essential, but that doesn’t mean we’re disposable.

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