“I’ve watched people lose their lives to this,” said Caity Beck, a registered nurse assigned to the emergency room, “there’s nothing worse than seeing someone feel defeated.”
She said COVID-19 is a difficult disease, and as a nurse — the individual administering medicines and explaining medical procedures (and at times) witnessing a patient’s hope dissipate — hearing community members back-burning or minimizing the disease is exhausting because COVID-19 has become such a part of her life.
Quite coincidentally, Beck transferred from the Med/Surge Unit to the ER in March to expand her skills as a nurse; the anticipation of the Corona virus has kept Beck focused.
“Okay, this is it. It’s here,” she said as she recalled her very first positive patient and learning how to navigate ER protocol and ever-changing pandemic procedures.
As the disease spread, constant vigilance became a primary safeguard against its spread and the implementation of PPE for all personnel in the hospital made necessary.
Providing enough PPE for everyone, however, is a big task and Beck said without Environmental services and a dedicated housekeeping team, potential exposure would be much higher.
Tammy Gardea, environmental services supervisor for Ivinson Memorial, oversees house cleaning procedures and sanitization and at times gowns up in accordance with Standard Isolation and Airborne Procedures to assist with facility cleanliness.
The entire facility is cleaned every hour and all patient care rooms undergo meticulous cleaning, including scrubbing the walls and changing the curtains.
TAXING ON NURSES
“We don’t know what is coming next but we are doing everything we can to prepare for it,” Gardea stated in an Ivinson website newsletter, “Department Spotlight.”
For many of the nurses, the idea of contracting the disease is always at the back of their heads.
Beck said the ambiguity and uncertainty of the coronavirus is what makes it such a difficult disease to work with. She said she wasn’t sure if there was enough definitive information about long-term effects and so “learning as you go” is scary.
Nurses are exposed sometime multiple times a day and it can be taxing. Even with all her gear on (gown, mask and shield), Beck sometimes succumbs to the nerve-wracking reality of exposure.
“It’s almost like you’re just waiting,” she said.
Alexis Pickerd, RN in the med/surge unit, has similar emotions of frustration and stress but they manifest slightly differently.
“I have a lot of guilt because we’re not as busy as other hospitals,” Pickerd said.
To her observation, the pandemic hasn’t affected them the same way it has in other medical facilities, and the 99 beds at Ivinson are primarily occupied by elective cases and surgical patients.
Though Pickerd’s experience isn’t as drastic as others, she still feels the need to remove herself mentally from it every once in a while. She was active on several nursing pages on social media and closely followed an infectious disease researcher but as of late had to step back and take a break.
“I’ve been so stressed and overwhelmed and, like I said, guilty that we don’t have the same influxes (as other places,” she said.
SOCIAL DISTANCING AT ITS FINEST
The COVID-19 Unit became operational in October, and Pickerd worked the very first night shift. She recalled the chaos of it all as a change of pace and “a work in progress.”
Formerly an equipment room, the unit underwent minor reconstruction to add a pseudo “clean room” that connected five separate patient care rooms. Pickerd said all five rooms were filled that night. It was a lot to deal with as she suited up and prepared as many of her medical supplies as possible before entering the clean room.
“I didn’t get to drink water until 3:30 in the morning and I got there at 6:30 (the previous night),” she said.
The patients in the specialized unit had underlying illnesses, complicating their COVID-19 symptoms and requiring the full attention of Pickerd.
She said thinking about the disease is frustrating, especially in a ‘Cowboy-up’ state. For the past 18 years, nurses have been surveyed as the most trustworthy professionals. For Pickerd, it’s frustrating to hear individuals call it a hoax.
“We’re advocating … and it’s not being received as much as it maybe should be,” Pickerd said.