Portraits of the Frontline
G A L L E R Y
The picture I sent you was on the day I intubated my first two covid patients, back to back. I’d just finished putting one patient on a ventilator and was about to do the second one. I asked someone to take a picture of my PPE so that I could text it to my husband, who was very worried about me. I put on the bravest face I could but I was terrified. A few weeks later the first patient I intubated got discharged home. The second one died.
I still think about that moment — feeling completely unprepared in the face of a brand new disease, terrified for myself and my family, but also trying to put on a brave face to reassure those around me. It’s crazy that the photo I sent you was just a few months ago. Since then I have taken care of almost 100 covid patients, gotten sick myself, gotten my baby and my husband sick, and somehow not yet had a chance to process all the trauma. But we have made it to the other side!
It was scary. I remembered how my older attendings would talk about training in the era of the HIV epidemic. They described seeing patients deteriorate and die in front of their eyes at an alarming rate due to this new, poorly understood virus. As I began my time caring for covid patients, I felt that I understand what my attendings were describing. We didn’t (and still don’t) understand the novel coronavirus. We did our best to aid in the recovery of affected patients, but ultimately, we had to watch many patients die. One of my colleagues had her grandmother admitted to our service. She had bad heart failure as well as COVID. We could immediately tell her prognosis was poor. She ultimately passed away and I had to pronounce her death in front of her crying granddaughter. A few minutes later, one of our other patients died.
To compound this, the vast majority of these patients died alone. They had no family or loved ones present, just the specter of hovering nurses and doctors, trying to care for them, while also avoiding unnecessary contact and trying to protect ourselves.
One of my first shifts having covid patients I took care of a man that we knew was not going to make it. His family made the decision to not put him through any more and to withdraw care and let him go peacefully. This was at a time when no family could come to the hospital and say goodbye. Instead I offered the only comfort I could think of. I told his family that they could call and leave voicemails or send text messages and I would make sure I read them to him before he passed. This man was so loved he received so many messages and I did my best to read each and every one to him as I sat in there in all the gear crying. This was one of my hardest patient deaths and it really affected me. To imagine the pain that this family went through of not being able to actually say goodbye or see him one more time was unimaginable. This time going through covid has made me a much better nurse and human being. I have never felt more love and support and appreciation from my family, friends and complete strangers.
I've been truly amazed by the countless response efforts I've seen over the past few months; if there's one thing I've learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, it's that each individual can have a profound effect on the larger community.
I have to say this pandemic has been an ever-evolving educational experience. I am an agency nurse so I go where I’m needed. It has been really difficult to obtain proper PPE. Early on, I knew I wasn’t going to be covered very well (issued 1 surgical mask at the beginning of the week, and having to save it in a paper bag). To get “fit-tested” for an N95 mask was a fight as well. I purchased my own face masks. It took 4 weeks to arrive as they had come from China. Also, felt the increased stress levels with the unknown. Will I get this virus? If I do, how to I isolate myself so I don’t spread this to my family? Am I bringing this home after my shift? Showering after every shift so now my skin is cracked. Worrying about every cough, sneeze, or even having a hot flash is scary (fever, or afebrile). This pandemic has taken quite a toll on my mental health, physical health, and spiritual health. My husband worries about me every day. I also take care of my mother in law who has dementia. This has its own set of problems and challenges.
What do I do to keep myself sane? Too tired to get involved with my hobby; my mind is constantly spinning with worry, things I need to accomplish like cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. Husband helps a lot since is temporarily on furlough. What happens when he goes back to work??? Don’t know but will just keep one foot in front of the other.
Being a nurse isn’t just a job; not just a career; it’s who you are, right to the inner core of your being.
Anna Maria, TX
“What color am I when I save your life?" - @amariiarzz
I mean it was crazy because I came from surgery, I was and OR nurse and decided to change my path in February. So I switch to a floor ortho nurse. I had three shifts and then covid hit. I basically spent March to the current working in covid and floating around the hospital. I think the biggest thing I’d like to share is that our bodies will tell us what is best for us, listen and respond to your needs.
As a respiratory therapist I worked side by side with the doctor and nurse helping intubate the patients that needed to go on a ventilator. I helped manage the ventilator as the patient got better or worse. It was all so scary because it was such an uncertain time, I didn’t know know if I was gonna sick, I didn’t know if I doing all the right things to help all the patients, I didn’t know if I could be doing more but most important I didn’t know if we were gonna run out of rooms or ventilators for the patients.As hard as it was to see so many people getting sick it really made me appreciate even more the work I chose to do, I knew I was helpin. I was proud of the team I worked with, we came together and worked harder than we ever did to try and save as many people as we could or try to.
Thru it all I always try to look to stay positive and think that we are gonna make it thru this. But the one experience that will stay with me is, walking into a room to help intubate this one patient. He was an older Spanish man he didn’t really speak much English and he was very sick and needed to go on a ventilator. The doctors faced time the family and explained the situation and the procedure. I walked in and setup the ventilator and everything we needed for the procedure. We are all in masked and gowned from head to toe so the man can’t really see our faces. He looked so sacred, he was alone since no family was allowed. The doctor spoke to him and the patient didn’t seem to understand. I held the mans hand and spoke to him in Spanish. I tried to tell him it was gonna he okay and that he was gonna be okay. We intubated the patient and moved him to an ICU room, don’t know how he did or if he survived. But I will always remember him because I felt that could of been my dad. All alone and scared with these people in masks and gowns coming into his room in the middle of the night and putting a breathing tube down his throat. That was the hardest part seeing patients all alone, no family to come see them or support them. A lot died alone that was the hardest part of it all. The nights were long and very busy but know that these patients might not see their families again was the hardest.
I'm a fairly new nurse been in the clinical field over a year now. You could have never imagined the drastic changes that happened overnight almost. I was always thought to treat every patient like they have a contiguous disease with standard measures but using N95 masks, shields, coats, gowns & gloves that has definitely been a challenge for myself and all of us. 2020 has truly been the year of nursing. It’s ironic since I can remember we learned about Healthy 2020.
My words of WISDOM for all:
Truth the Lord. Covid 19 has been all around me but has not touched me. Remember there is a 99% rate of recovery of Covid patients. Many COVID-19 deaths are caused by underlying diseases! Please wash your hands and if you wear gloves change them frequently.
Remember License Practical Nurses are nurses too!!!
Thank you all for working hard!
It has been just extremely stressful and tiring! We’ve had to work long hours some weeks and hours are cut some weeks. I am excited we are able to make a difference in patients lives and potentially help them through this!
Daniel & Rebecca, CA
As an anesthesiologist and healthcare during COVID-19 it was definitely and hectic and stressful time and my support and prayers go out to all the people that lost loved ones during this time. I appreciate all the support I received over the last few months and hope everyone is able to stay healthy and strong!
I was a nurse for ten years before recently graduating with my Master's Degree to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. And I must say, this is probably the strangest time to be starting a new role in the field of healthcare. My new graduate provider orientation was altered, so I could begin providing more quickly, just care as the COVID pandemic hit. Instead of being eased into having a whole hour to see each patient and having plenty of time to write notes, order labs, and get a feel for the flow of the community clinic I am working at, I started answering calls on our COVID Hotline and providing telephone triage to concerned patients with all sorts of ailments. From referring patients who were very ill to seek care at the local Emergency Room, to re-assuring patients without known exposure or active symptoms about how COVID works, I was learning a new job, on the fly, as the nation was hit with an unprecedented pandemic. I took this selfie during a "slow" day on the Hotline, and submitted it for your project because I wanted people to know about all those of us behind-the-scenes in the COVID fight as well.
We have gotten through a lot of that, and a lot of the growing pains that we as a clinic (and as a nation) have sustained while learning to deal with COVID are easing. Now we have several providers rotating through our Hotline, sometimes answering over sixty calls a day, providing guidance and testing as appropriate, to our community in eastern North Carolina. I now work more in the office seeing patients on the "front line" and have had my fill of wearing masks (I'm not sure my ears will ever recover, nor my beard), but I continue to cover our Hotline one day per week. I can't say enough great things about the awesome team I work with, and I can't say 'thank you' enough for all the support I have received as we all learn to deal with this new "normal" of social distancing. Just remember everyone, help us help you by using common sense, washing your hands, wearing a mask, and staying six feet apart!
Some days haven't been too bad and then there are the OTHERS😷😥...when 3 of your 5 patients are Covid or you have to assume they are because it takes 5-7 days to get their test results back...when you have to step back out of the isolation room and quickly undress from your ppe because you're having a panic attack and feel like you can't breathe and your hearts going to explode...or when you get home to your family to have to strip in the laundry room and rush to the shower to avoid everyone...yes, even sweet Bella 🐕🦺 until you are "decontaminated"...
Jennifer RN, CMSRN
“I took this selfie my first week in the proverbial ‘trenches’. I will always remember the fear I felt, and could see in the eyes of my coworkers, as we entered the COVID-ICU each morning. We grew brave together. We became able to count on one another to, if nothing else, show up to work the next day. I will never forget these individuals. Even if I could recount all that we witnessed or were able to accomplish... You had to have been there.”
-Jordan M.Price, BSN, RN, CCRN-CSC
As long as I've been a nurse, I've never liked wearing a mask. While I'm mostly used to it now and understand why I have to, I still don't care for it. One of the most difficult things for me has been learning how to show emotion with only my eyes. A simple smile can give hope and encouragement, express compassion and empathy or even make an entire day. So, I'm learning to do that with my body language. I can only hope when the time comes that I'm able to go without the mask, my visible smile will mean that much more to me and most of all, those I share it with.
"Pumping my way through covid because baby still has to eat"
It has been a challenging few months. But, we are hopeful that through scientific persistence and some luck, we will hopefully yield a successful therapy or vaccine.
For me, the hardest thing has been being a new mom and having to pump multiple times a shift at work. It takes more time to make sure everything is done in a way that won't potentially spread the virus. It takes so much longer because I have to take off my mask and top layer of scrubs and constantly clean my hands and pumping equipment. Then I feel guilty that I'm leaving my coworkers for even longer during this stressful time while I'm pumping. Then when I get home from work everyday I have a whole routine...wash hands, sanitize glasses and phone, and immediately shower. I usually try to avoid seeing my son until I do all that because otherwise it's so hard...because I can't touch cuddle him and he doesn't know why. Of course there's the normal stressors of working in a hospital that has a rising number of cases and where people are stressed, and there are drug shortages, but for me personally, having a baby is a really hard aspect of it.