This Is What It’s Like to Be a Registered Nurse During the Coronavirus Pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has upended the lives of American workers — especially those in "essential jobs," who continue to go to work in the midst of the outbreak, including nurses, pharmacy technicians, flight attendants, grocery store employees, and caregivers. InStyle spoke to women in these fields about what their day-to-day life looks like right now, their concerns for themselves and their families, as well as how those of us staying home can help.
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Rina, a Registered Nurse at a trauma hospital in Downtown Los Angeles
Rina, whose last name has been withheld for privacy, is a 25-year-old RN in Los Angeles, Calif., where non-essential businesses and as well as schools have been closed. She lives with her parents, who are also healthcare workers.
It’s honestly just been a mess, we don’t really know how coronavirus is really spread. I think right now the world is really just practicing self-quarantine. There are differing opinions and differing orders, and I think it’s best for all of us to go with what the government and the CDC recommends.
There are the patients that we’re taking care of, and there’s also us that we have to worry about. There’s another issue of, ‘Are we going to be protected?’ It differs a lot day-to-day. As nurses, we are unionized at my hospital. So it’s really important for us to go to our union rep and see what our union recommends and if they’re going to help protect us when it comes to the point of us being exposed to it. I don’t have any COVID-19 patients yet.
Because we’re at a trauma hospital, we’re always busy with motor vehicle accidents, and just any other major surgeries that are happening with regards to trauma. We’re close to South Central, so we get gunshot wound patients. There’s a lot of these things happening, and these patients can’t be kept away from a hospital. It is an underserved population that we cater to here. A lot of them don’t have primary care doctors, so they rely on us to get medical care. A good amount of them are uninsured with multiple medical conditions, so any access to healthcare is already difficult for our population that we’re serving. Now with the COVID-19, we are taking more precautions like screening them in the ER, asking about their travel history, if they’re experiencing any symptoms — like wheezing or shortness of breath. If they’re not sick enough to be admitted in a hospital, we don’t want them coming in or being in the ER.
We want to make sure that patients are in an isolation room and that we ourselves have the proper protective equipment, which is difficult right now because everyone wants a mask. We have to ration out our masks per shift, and we have to ask our supervisors for masks because they store it and lock it up in their office. We are almost going to have a shortage of masks, I feel like, and also the sanitizing wipes that cover a bunch of drug-resistant organisms. Basically, we wipe down everything that we can in common places, as well as patients’ stuff, like IV poles and other medical equipment that we use in their rooms. We’re also rationing those out, and we count how many bottles we have.
Typically, [the masks] were just in the patients’ hallways before all of this was happening. But then people were starting to take masks and putting them in their bags. And even the wipes or gloves — it does get pretty daunting because if you don’t need it, you shouldn’t be using it. You’re wasting our resources.
In terms of transmission, we still aren’t clear on whether it’s airborne or whether it’s [through] droplets. It’s kind of scary as a nurse because we still don’t have a full set of precautions. Each day I would come in and hear ‘Oh it’s not airborne, it’s only droplets’ — but what if it is airborne? [As of Mar. 17, the CDC says the novel coronavirus is transmitted "between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet)," as well as droplets, and contaminated surfaces.] We really don’t know. And they’re rationing [N95 masks] even more than the surgical masks.
Last week, we started some debriefing of what’s going to happen [if we have COVID-19 patients]. We now have a resource book of our protocols if we get a patient, things to do before giving them treatment. If we do get a positive patient, we’re supposed to be doing one-to-one: one RN to one patient. But that’s another thing, if they’re [not testing positive], we will have other patients. We may have ruled out that patient, but they could still have it, in which case we’re bringing that to our other patients who may be compromised.
I’m not the only healthcare professional in my home. I live with my parents still, and they work in a healthcare professional setting too. One is in a hospital and the other is at a long-term care facility. We’re always out of the house because we’re still working — we’re not like other families where everyone is quarantined at home. [My parents] have some medical conditions and I don’t want to compromise them. We do have a small house, so it’s hard not to be in contact with them. I’m probably the most likely to be exposed. My mom works in the NICU with little babies. My dad works with older people, but it’s not a nursing home.
We do take precautions. On an everyday basis, I immediately remove my scrubs and put them in a separate hamper. Our work stuff, we usually keep in our cars. I feel like a lot of hand washing and disinfecting our common spaces would be the precautions we’re taking right now. In general, I just like to be by myself at home. We all have our own things going on — we kind of isolate ourselves from each other on a regular basis.
For the most part, [people should] just stay at home and only go out when you really need to. And the hierarchy of essentials is: food, water, medicine — I would even recommend having prescriptions filled out and having that supply with you for the next one to two months at least. In terms of social distancing, I think there are people who don’t understand — especially people who are still going out. Just remember that not everyone disinfects the way you would want to disinfect something. Be wary that not everyone will show symptoms. Just wash your hands.