I haven’t been back to the hospital since March 11th which was the day the WHO declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic. Other than the news on people’s TV, the unit was completely normal. I had a normal patient load, the patients were normal (normal meaning crazy), the hospital was doing its regular thing. Then I broke my foot on the 12th at the gym (one of the last days the gym was open) and I was off for a month because of my foot and also because I had been scheduled to be off for our spring break. Since the 11th, the hospital cancelled all of the elective surgeries and the census on my unit plummeted enough for them to close the whole floor down. This was last Thursday. Then they combined my unit with our sister unit upstairs and then based on cryptic group chats, it sounded like they were dispersing the staff on our floor throughout the hospital.
When they were making the next 6-week scheduling block two weeks ago, I changed my once-a-week appearance at the hospital back to full-time (three-shifts a week). At the time I made this decision, I had the idea that I would just need to help out for 6 weeks and then it would be over and then I would go back to my once-a-week appearance and we would all go on with our lives. But I don’t think this is going to happen in that cut & dried sort of way now. Anyways, I’m trying to not think about it too much, otherwise my head hurts and I get weepy and depressed. I’m taking vacation days that I built up and sadly probably will no longer use to cover my desk job, at least for this next 6 week block until I reassess.
I was deeply unhappy on Sunday, the day before my first shift. I’m almost always unhappy the night before a shift, even in non-pandemic times, but I’m almost 100 % happy after the shift is done – even with all the crazy crap that goes down. Unhappy patients in pain, screwed up orders, confused family members, annoying coworkers – there is so much drama in a shift. So much living that goes on, it’s always fascinating and there is almost always very meaningful moments during the day even if it is buried in ten thousand frustrations. I don’t like starting a shift and I’m always slightly unhappy as I’m doing it but at the end, I know I will be happy that I did it.
Jeremy took my photo on the way out the door.
So I show up early on Monday morning and I get sent over to 6 East (which is a whole different section of the hosptial) and I go on over and I know no one else working the unit. But I quickly find out that almost all the patients on the unit are covid positive. This is not an ICU floor, so no one on vents. I get a quick tour of the supply rooms, med rooms. There are 2-3 other float nurses around so I know I’m not the only new one. When you start a shift, you get handed a cell phone for the day. Jeremy would never be able to find me (I don’t carry my own personal cell with me while I work) so I call him on the work cell phone to give him my number for the day and to tell him that my exposure will be high. (We had discussed that maybe my exposure would be low and we wouldn’t have to implement our full quarantine plan in the house, but this is not the case). He gave me a quick pep talk that I needed to start my day.
There is enough PPE for the hospital. The hospital admin says we are “green” on PPE. They will replace anything if you ask, but they usually want to see the broken one. The N95 mask is supposed to last until it’s broken or soiled, but they will hand you a new one anytime if you ask. Surgical masks go over the N95 masks and get replaced like 6 times a shift. And then the face shield is used forever and wiped down with a wipe. You have to ask for bleach wipes, again they’ll give you as much as you want, but you ask and they give you about 4 squares. If they left it out, people would just take way more than they needed. All the gowns were one use only and we doubled gloved which was also one use only.
It was a stressful morning. I had to ask the other nurses exactly how to put on the PPE, what they were doing to clean everything. I had to relearn all my routines about nursing. Usually I have a computer on wheels that I roll into a room. It has a little table I have my notes on and the pulled medications and I scan the patient’s wristband and then I scan the medications and I feel free to go in and out of a room as much as possible. With covid rooms, I had to do all the computer work outside (to not contaminate the computer) and bring in only the medications and/or supplies I needed and plan to not enter for another two hours. So then you have to think a lot more about what you’ll need, scan all the meds outside – I wrote a mini to do list on a scrap piece of paper on the outside to make sure I’d do everything I need to do on the inside, make sure I had all my supplies because you can’t be running out to get gauze or a connector or an alcohol swab. And then you get all dressed up. Because they wanted to minimize exposure, I also had no tech helping me. So all the ancillary things that they do for me – vitals every 3-4 hours, blood sugar checks – I had to do. Dietary wasn’t delivering food trays for me either, I had to bring those in as well and I had to take dirty trays out of the room. Whatever blessings I had on Monday came from my patients themselves. They were all doing well, still on supplemental oxygen, but headed to discharge. They knew this too and they were all mostly happy. (Still coughing! But happily coughing…) Can you be a cheerful covid patient? You sure can. They were all capable of taking care of themselves, feeding themselves, going to the bathroom themselves. This was the blessing of day. I did not get the positive covid patient who was completely incontinent, or with dementia, or trying to escape the floor. This was all happening on the unit around me.
On Tuesday, I ended up on my “home floor”. I know I said my unit was closed, but they combined my floor with the floor above and at least half the staff are familiar to me. I think they are trying to do 1 float day followed by one non-float day. The layout of the unit is the same as our unit, so it felt more comfortable than the first day, but still the supplies are all in different places. Out of 30 beds, there were about 8 covid positive patients and each nurse had one or two covid positive patients. I felt I was lucky on the 2nd day because my 2 “positive” covid patients were really rule-out covids who test results came in during my shift with negative results. Woo hoo!
Both days, I wore my double mask all day. Even on the 2nd day with which I had all non-covid patients. It makes me feel better to wear an N95 all day at the hospital.
My face at the end of the day. And I was right, at the end of the 2nd shift, I felt exhausted – but good. It’s like real work. Though I haven’t slept well in three nights. It’s hard to get that adrenaline feeling out of my system enough to sleep well.
Now we have a few days here to start getting used to quarantining in the house. I’m trying to stay six feet away from everyone and touch almost nothing in the house. I have my work space and the guest bedroom. Jeremy is doing all of Edda’s care which is a lot and now has doubled since I’m not doing any of it. Vince is helping by making dinner and feeding Edda lunch. We had a bit of a tough day. I’m tired. Jeremy went grocery shopping which takes hours and is stressful for him. And I’m not using the kitchen so I have to ask Vince to bring me a snack or Jeremy to make me lunch. I usually do not have to ask anyone for food in my own house, so there is irritation around as we learn these new routines.
Shopping for my parents as well.
I cut my own hair today. I miss Linda, my regular hairdresser. I texted her a photo of me using office scissors to cut my hair.
Not too bad. Now I’m just waiting to see if I’m going to get sick. Fingers crossed hopefully not. I’m going to try to sleep now.