The Life of a Healthcare Worker During a Pandemic

We’re all doing our part during this pandemic to stop the spread and flatten the curve. In New York, we’re required to wear face masks in public spaces and our schools are officially closed for the remainder of the year. I personally have been hunkered down in my house for the past seven weeks, working remotely from home and going to the store only when it’s necessary.

While I have had the luxury of limiting my exposure to the virus by social distancing and becoming a homebody (which by the way, I don’t hate), other occupations do not have this luxury, especially those who are in the healthcare field. With today being the start of National Nurses Week, I thought it was fitting to have my cousin Lexi, and my close friend Amanda, give us a better glimpse into their lives as healthcare workers during this pandemic.

Lexi S.
Registered Nurse, Long Island, NY

Tell us a little more about where you work.
I am a Registered Nurse at Northwell Plainview Hospital on Long Island in the Emergency Room. However, during this time I have also found myself working on COVID-19 ICU units and COVID-19 Medical units. 

Since COVID-19 how has your daily routine changed? What are the necessary precautions your employer has required?

Since COVID-19 my routine for work has changed a lot. I now have to leave about 15 minutes earlier to make sure I have enough time when I get to work to change my scrubs and apply all Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). I used to never worry about what I would bring home on my scrubs but now that’s a whole new story. I change into a whole new set of scrubs at work which they provide and take back at the end of shift to clean. Next I have to apply all PPE. I start with my masks, yes mask(S). First, I have the N95 which is super tight to my face, I check the seal by making sure my glasses don’t fog with my breath, then I apply a basic cloth mask. Before entering a COVID-19 room, whether it’s pending or positive, I apply one more mask that also has a face shield. Next comes the hair cover where I have to make sure I have no loose hairs sticking out that can get the virus on them. Then I put on shoe covers. Before we enter a room, we then apply an additional gown and gloves, which is not to be removed until exiting the room.

On estimate, how many COVID-19 patients do you treat daily, and does any one patient stick out since the pandemic?
In the Emergency Room the number changes with each day, but every patient that comes through the door is now considered to have COVID-19 until proven otherwise. Even if the patient has no supporting signs and symptoms, we can’t take the chance of exposing ourselves. While on the floors, every patient is positive. When the floor nurses used to have a maximum of 6 patients to 1 nurse, they are now having assignments of 9 patients to 1 nurse, and they are all COVID positive. In our ICU the nurses have 4 intubated patients to 1 nurse, where they used to have a max of 1-2 patients intubated to 1 nurse. It has been very overwhelming and stressful. 

One patient that stands out since this pandemic is a patient that was one of the first COVID-19 positive patients to come through the door. The patient did have some underlying conditions but was still one of the youngest we’ve seen, in their early 30’s. This particular patient was intubated and had a poor prognosis. The whole hospital was rooting for them. Well, as of last week they were extubated, awake, and able to FaceTime with family. This patient is a true fighter, along with all our other patients. Hearing success stories like this motivate us even more that we will overcome this virus!

How have you been shown gratitude and compassion as a nurse? What did you appreciate the most?
The love and support that nurses along with other first responders have received nationwide has been amazing. I have been loving all the online shopping deals that various companies have been offering along with small businesses and restaurants in town. Our hospital has also been sponsored by Goldman Sachs and supplying all meals for the employees, this has been amazing. I would have to say though, the things I appreciate most have been the letters and thank you’s from patients’ families! It feels amazing when we get real proof of making a difference for patients and their families. 

You recently graduated from Graduate School and officially became a Family Nurse Practitioner (congrats!). Tell us a little about your graduation experience and how you celebrated.
Yes, thank you! It was an exhausting 3 years and although this is not what I imagined my graduation would be like I am thankful to be officially done! I must say with the circumstances Hofstra did an amazing job for a virtual graduation, which I was able to watch at work surrounded by my amazing coworkers.

Although I wasn’t even able to be home watching the virtual graduation, I am grateful that I get to do what I love for work! Once I got home, we celebrated with champagne and a delicious dinner and of course dessert (my fav part)! On Saturday I surprised my parents at their upstate house and had an outdoor family celebration, while social distancing (of course) around a bonfire! 

What would be your one piece of advice to everyone to stay safe during this time?
My piece of advice is really to be smart and know your body. I know it is a matter of time until things start opening up again. If you feel sick or have a fever, STAY HOME! This is so important because if you are sick and isolate then you will not expose anyone to then potentially spread the virus. Also, in public it is a good idea to wear a mask to prevent inhaling any potential microbes in the air. You can ditch the gloves though; they don’t help you in any way unless you are changing them in between every time you touch something before touching something else. I hope everyone continues to stay healthy and safe!

Amanda W.
Physician’s Assistant, Kinderhook, NY

Tell us a little more about where you work.
I’m an Emergency Room Physician Assistant at Ellis Medicine in Schenectady, NY.

Since COVID-19 how has your daily routine changed? What are the necessary precautions your employer has required?
Since the virus started to spread in our area my daily routine had changed drastically, especially at home.

Since I would have some shifts where I strictly saw COVID patients, my husband and I decided to quarantine from each other. He runs a dairy farm and cannot afford to miss work, and he also works directly with his family. I did not want to run the risk of exposing them. I lived upstairs and he was downstairs for the last 6 weeks. We have had no physical contact and often eat in separate areas of the house. Since the decline in cases in our area, we are starting to move to a more normal living situation.  At work my hours decreased as we were seeing less volume but more critical patients. My employer shifted providers around to have the least exposure for everyone, so not all would be at risk. We were provided proper PPE, were instructed on social distancing at work, and were advised to only use certain computers. We have also restricted our visitor policy. Patients are not allowed to have visitors with them when they come to the hospital. Everything is managed over the phone.

On estimate, how many COVID-19 patients do you treat daily, and does any one patient stick out since the pandemic?
Roughly 3-4 weeks ago I saw the most COVID patients. I was working in our respiratory secluded area of the ER. This is where we see complaints of fever, shortness of breath, or cough. Each patient had varying degrees of the illness, some elders with moderate symptoms and some younger adults with severe symptoms.

My grandmother had come down with the virus 4 weeks ago. Through FaceTime I was able to manage her symptoms for the first week at home with the help of my family who was with her. I had travel restrictions for work and could not go and take care of her. On day 7, usually when the symptoms take a turn for the worst she went into respiratory failure. I sent her to the ER, even though she did not want to go. From there she was in the hospital for roughly 10 days until it took her life. I was on the phone with the doctor everyday brainstorming on best treatment options and what she would be able to handle. Being exposed to this changed my way of practice, as now I am on the phone constantly with patients’ families and informing them on condition, treatment, and planning. 

How have you been shown gratitude and compassion as a nurse? What did you appreciate the most?
There are a couple different ways I’ve been shown gratitude, from patients, families and other providers. Oftentimes, it’s on the phone. While updating families a thank you is passed along, which was rare in the past. Local restaurants and families have donated lunch or dinner to the ER staff. I believe that is one of the best ways to thank staff as there are often times we do not eat on a shift. When food comes, we get to eat together, even if it is for only 3 minutes. 

About a month ago you were looking around the Capital Region for hand sanitizer. Tell us about the shortage and that experience. Did you ever end up finding some
About 2 weeks into the pandemic I was looking for clorox wipes and hand sanitizer for my house. The use was to clean the inside of my car and work gear after a shift. Because many people “panic purchased,” I did not have any luck for at least a week. I was able to find a local farm who makes their own hand sanitizer, but still do not have wipes. I resorted to making my own for a couple of weeks. I had a lot of family and friend support, keeping an eye out while I was at work. At work, we conveniently were able to get a small UV sanitizer where I could place my phone, pen, ID, and stethoscope in to clean. 

What would be your one piece of advice to everyone to stay safe during this time?
The best advice I can give someone is to remember social distancing isn’t just to protect you, but it is to protect the people you see. Once places start to open, keep in mind to remain distancing yourself from others, wash your hands constantly, and do not touch your face. 

The dedication and compassion that our healthcare workers have shown during this pandemic is applauding. When the pandemic is over, they all deserve a vacation. But, in the meantime, we can continue to celebrate our front-line workers by observing National Nurses Week (May 6 – May 12). Also, don’t forget to get your free medium hot or iced coffee and donut at Dunkin Donuts today!

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