By Bria Scott
For months now we have talked about the heroes who have battled this pandemic. We have watched them brave the storm through 12-hour shifts, all while returning home to their families and carrying on with their new normal. For many of these health care workers, risking their lives to save others leaves them both feeling traumatized and questioning the increasing risk that their job has. This week I was able to talk with three health care workers: Hillary Rogers, RN, Kyra Morris, LPN, and Patrice Corbin, MSN, RN. We discussed their experiences working in the health profession during COVID-19.
Bria Scott: Tell me a little about yourselves.
Hillary Rogers: I have been a registered nurse (RN) for six years. Currently, I work in interventional radiology and have been in that position for three years.
Kyra Morris: I have been a nurse for five years in various settings. In more recent years I have been primarily in long term care/skilled nursing facilities.
Patrice Corbin: I started off as a nursing assistant. I then became a skilled LPN (licensed practical nurse), ADN (associate’s degree in nursing), RN upon my completion from Bishop State Community College. I obtained a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degree from the University of Mobile and a master’s degree in nursing administration and education. I have been a travel nurse and worked in many fields of nursing from the ICU to telemetry to geriatrics to pediatric nursing. I currently work with COVID patients as far as testing them. I work in CVICU (cardiovascular intensive care unit) as needed and the GI Lab (gastrointestinal).
Scott: What does a typical workday look like for you?
Rogers: My day starts early. I get to work at 0600 (6 a.m.) and prepare the unit and equipment for the day. Currently, I serve as charge nurse and coordinate the cases and staffing in conjunction with my working supervisor. We have an outpatient schedule for each day. In addition, we get consults and complete inpatients as needed around our schedule. We take alternating calls one day a week and every fifth weekend. My day ends at 1630 (4:30 p.m.).
Morris: My workday begins with a full report on my assigned residents/patients. After receiving the report, I make sure to place eyes on all assigned residents/patients to ensure that everyone is stable with no signs of distress.
Corbin: A typical workday for me on a Tuesday will be from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. I typically swab approximately 80 to 100 patients a day for COVID testing. We do these tests prior to any patient having a procedure or surgery. It is extremely hot outside when we are testing the patients. We have on full armor: plastic gown, mask, respirators, face shield, hair bonnet, gloves and shoe protectors. We educate the family and the patient prior to any procedure and we educate them about the testing itself. Initially working for the facility was rough, we had limited supplies and we were all afraid.
Scott: What is it like working in health care during a pandemic?
Rogers: Working in health care is always exciting. However, working during a pandemic has proven to add to the unpredictable nature of this field. As things are constantly changing, flexibility is key. Knowing that I work in an environment where we work great as a team is comforting when we don’t know what changes are around the corner. Working longer hours or unpredictable schedules also proves difficult in maintaining a balanced and healthy mental/emotional/physical state.
Morris: When the pandemic initially began it was a complete shock. There was an eerie feeling throughout the facility. It felt very surreal and more stressful than the norm. The majority of the shift was spent trying to keep patients at ease as well as maintaining a safe environment. After the shock, it became the new normal.
Corbin: We spend a lot of hours being hungry and thirsty, and a lot of us have obtained rashes on the face from the respirator. It affects you mentally and physically. You will learn to love the most high during this pandemic.
Scott: What does going home to your family feel like? Do you take any extra precautions? What about when you are with your parents or elderly relatives?
Rogers: I think I speak for most health care workers during this time when I say maintaining a safe barrier in the transition from work to home is a priority and a big stressor. Many of us have children or elders in the home and take any and every precaution on a daily basis. For me, I take my shoes off and leave them in the garage. I change clothes right when I get home and immediately clean my scrubs. If we are exposed directly to a COVID patient, we take other precautions like showering and changing immediately after the case.
Morris: Going home can be very scary due to the uncertainty of whether you are bringing the virus home or not. I take extra precaution by leaving my shoes outside and spraying them with disinfectant. I also remove my clothing and place them directly in the washing machine to be cleaned immediately. When with elderly relatives, I refrain from physical contact and maintain a safe distance.
Corbin: You become paranoid because you feel that you are bringing it home to your family.
Scott: What do people need to know about COVID?
Rogers: I think the biggest takeaway from this pandemic is realizing the severity of the disease. The cases are real and intense. People have and will continue to die from this or suffer lifelong complications from the disease. The most important thing we can do is wear face coverings and maintain social distancing. If not for yourself, do it to protect those around you. We have to get through this together.
Morris: People need to know that hand washing is very important and that COVID is real.
Corbin: People need to know that this pandemic is not a hoax. It is real and tortuous to those of us that deal with it every single day. It affects all of us in different ways.
Scott: A lot of health care workers are saying how traumatizing working during COVID has been. Mentally, how are you and other workers?
Rogers: One of the hardest things about being a nurse, not just during a pandemic, is becoming close with the patients and family members. Most days, we spend more time at the hospital and with the patients than we do with our families. In turn, taking care of someone who is critically ill and taking care of them for an extended period of time triggers an emotional aspect that can be overwhelming. I have talked with some fellow nurses and have heard just how hard it is emotionally and mentally. Once again, we have to be there to support each other and have healthy outlets outside of work to ease our minds as much as possible when we leave each day. The balance isn’t easy.
Morris: Watching people pass away so quickly and at a more frequent rate is not something you get used to experiencing. It is very traumatizing and draining. I personally had to take a mental break and take some time for myself. Not only is it mentally tiring, but physically as well. Working in head to toe protective equipment adds an extra toll on the body.
Corbin: The nurses are actually afraid of each other; we make sure we mask up and that we communicate only when needed. We nurses eat separately and it has become a lonely road.
Scott: What has been the most common symptom amongst COVID patients?
Rogers: All COVID cases seem to be different, so it’s hard to group cases together. Comorbidities and predispositions seem to play a big role in the course of the disease. With that being said, it’s not always consistent. That’s what makes it scary. This disease does not discriminate. The treatment and recovery are anything but easy. While at the hospital, we have protocols in place to help protect our patient population as a whole, as well as the staff. Visitors are still limited, and masks must be worn at all times while in the hospital. Screening stations are in place for everyone entering the hospital and COVID tests are required before certain procedures.
Morris: The most common symptom amongst COVID patients is coughing.
Corbin: As far as the different signs and symptoms people are exhibiting, many patients stated that their senses of smell and taste leaves the body. Many have temperatures and complaints of body aches. Some come in initially with chest pain, but it is later ruled to be COVID-19, so they are just so weak until their body gives up and gives out. Some patients experience shortness of breath and excruciating headaches.
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