As we work our way through another week of staying at home & continuing to practice physical distancing, many of us are experiencing a wee bit of angst and most likely, boredom.
We may be feeling the need to get out, to see & hug our family & friends, to return to a sense of normal.
I get it! I feel you.
But here’s the thing.
In a nutshell, my current day to day struggle consists of not being able to physically see & hug my loved ones, not being able to go to a job I love and coming up with creative ways to exercise and fill my day while honouring rules of physical distancing.
Imagine, if you can, how it would feel to be a front line healthcare worker. The stress, the worry, the utter exhaustion. My struggles, although very real to me, pale in comparison.
Allow me to introduce “T”.
A best friend to my daughter from a very young age, I have had the privilege of knowing this beautiful soul for many, many years. She is like another daughter to me.
”T” is an ICU nurse in one of our local hospitals, a job that doesn’t get more front line in the face of this monster virus. In fact both she & her husband work in healthcare; they have 2 precious daughters at home.
When she recently posted a picture of herself & a colleague at work, it got me thinking about the reasons we need to stay home. When I asked for permission to share the picture, explaining I was thinking of writing a post about the importance of staying home, I was given the go ahead without hesitation. “Anything to get the word out”.
I asked T if she could provide me with some thoughts and insight into what she & her colleagues are experiencing. With her permission, I would like to share some of them with all of you.
Some of her words have been reconfigured with a combination of my own. I ask you to read them. All of them. They are important to understand.
My first thought is how I can definitely see when people are staying at home, you can begin to wonder, is this really necessary? On my days off, to some degree, I feel it too. Is it really a big deal to go out? Is this virus really serious? While life inside the confines of our house can feel eerily “normal”, we wonder if it is normal everywhere else.
It is not normal everywhere else, especially when I return to the reality at work. I now leave my house much earlier for my shift, as all staff must enter through one entrance at the hospital, where we are screened to be cleared for work. If you fail screening, you are sent home to wait for a call from occupational health for next steps. If you pass screening, you are issued a surgical mask and allowed to enter. In spite of our pleas to be provided hospital scrubs, we continue to wear our own. We were sent an email on how to properly wash our scrubs. At the end of our shift, we are responsible for bagging our scrubs in a plastic bag, at which point we take them home to be laundered. Prior to being laundered, they must stay in the garage for several days. Silver Lining from T (my words) – I did discover I have a sanitize feature on my washing machine!😁
Every time I go back to work, I feel a little more shocked with how many patients are sick. Not just old people. Young people. I have never cared for so many people my own age (33) before in ICU.
The surgical mask that is given to us at the entrance is ours for the shift. We wear it at all times except on break. The straps that sit behind our ears have rubbed most people’s skin raw. Colleagues have found wearing a headband or surgical cap with buttons on it allows us to place the ear loop over the button, to help prevent skin breakdown.
I had asked T why she was wearing two masks in this picture.
In the ICU, when caring for covid patients, they are usually on a ventilator. Ventilators can cause the covid droplets to aerosolize which means we wear special N95 masks. We are critically low on them. Because of the critical shortage, we are now being told we have to conserve these special masks as much as possible. That means we now put one on and use it for the whole shift, a practice that would have been a huge no-no a few weeks ago. In order to try to keep our mask safe, we put a second surgical mask with a face shield over our N95 when caring for a patient. The surgical mask is removed and placed in the garbage when leaving a patients’ room and we keep the N95 mask on. N95s are not comfortable to wear for long periods of time. They itch, are very hot and the straps dig into your face. They are fit to each individual and we are retested every 2 years to ensure proper fit. Although a number of wonderful local community members & businesses have donated their supply, we still fear running out.**
Last Friday, our manager came around at the end of our shift, to explain why we may not be getting anymore masks, thus implementing a new process of saving our N95s at the end of our shift. This was devastating news, leaving many of us in tears. We are now required to place our N95 in an autoclave bag, in the hopes that they can figure out how to sanitize them for reuse. We have no plans to reuse masks yet. They are trying to be proactive just in case. So we label the mask with our name, our department and date, so if they can clean it, our own mask will come back to us for reuse. Again, not at all proper protocol. (my words)
The hospital has enacted an emergency order, where they can recall staff from other areas with critical care experience. Nurses who have left for other areas of the hospital are back to try to ensure we have enough nurses to handle the needs in ICU.
In my own personal life, I am experiencing a lot of anxiety. Having never been an anxious person, it has been truly eye opening to live life with constant anxiety. I have a greater understanding now for people who suffer from anxiety and how awful it is on every aspect of your life.
Being a two healthcare worker household has been a huge source of anxiety. I wish one of us had a job where we could work from home so one of us could stay with the girls. Thankfully, our daycare provider, who is a family member, has agreed to continue to take the girls. Friends of mine who also have two healthcare worker families have adopted various strategies to try to make this work. Some are working opposite shifts to their spouse, some have sent their children to live with other family members so they aren’t risking infecting their children or other family.
Other ways it is impacting work. We are no longer allowing visitors, which is a huge change as we have always had a very open visitors policy. As a nurse, it is breaking my heart. I try to give phone updates as often as I can to family members, we have been attempting to use patient’s phones to FaceTime with their loved ones if possible. When someone is dying, it is absolutely crushing to not let families come to be with their loved one. We sit at our patients bedside holding hands, ensuring they are not alone.
When I finish my shift at the end of the day, I usually drive the long way home to give myself time to process the day. I often cry. Sometimes I am just too tired for tears. I don’t listen to the radio much as I can’t bear to hear another news update. I don’t need to hear the news, I am living the news. I need silence.
The calm of home is my refuge. The normalcy of my girls wanting hugs, kisses and stories is welcome. But as soon as I am home, I worry about my colleagues. I think about the patients and wonder if they are doing any better.
Mostly, on the days I am off, I try to be thankful. I try to enjoy my kids as much as possible, even when they’re driving me crazy because we’ve all been cooped up.
But I’m scared. I’m scared of how bad this could get if people don’t stay home. I’m scared of running out of essential protective equipment. I’m scared of my colleagues getting sick or me or my husband. I’m scared if my colleagues get sick, who will take care of the other sick people.
So my friends, if you were wondering why it is necessary to stay home, if you are feeling a little bored or impatient, I hope reading the thoughts of one remarkable ICU nurse has helped to put things into perspective. It certainly did mine.
T, I hope you know how much I love you, how very proud I am of you for all that you are doing to care for those who are battling the impacts of this virus. In spite of all of the challenges you are facing, you and your colleagues return to the front line day after day, working in very stressful circumstances with minimum supplies. We will forever be in your debt for the exceptional care you provide day in, day out.
Thank you for taking the time and having the courage to share your thoughts & for giving me permission to share them with others.
Please Stay Home people!
**3M is the primary manufacturer of the N95 masks. The White House administration was attempting to prevent 3M from shipping supplies to Canada and other countries it currently has supply agreements with. 3M has thus far stood up to the White House, suggesting this is not an ethical approach, and has appeared to reach an agreement to continue providing masks. Stay tuned to see how that plays out. Sourced from CTV News