COVID Diary 5

So what's it like in the hospital right now?

It's calm where I've been--only four or so COVID rooms on my unit last weekend, and I've been pulled to other floors, like the ED, pretty regularly. We're preparing for the surge by rearranging units and redeploying workers to new departments. I trained in the intensive care unit (and at the hospital's training facility downtown) yesterday, because my floor has been named the coronavirus-care unit and is officially now an ICU. I learned to draw arterial blood, which requires remembering which switches to push/pull at which times. I have this tendency to use an unnecessary amount of strength for simple tasks, so of course I busted a syringe off its connector and spilled blood everywhere. But learning new tasks renewed my motivation for this work, which started out as just a job I needed to take.

Just a job?

I've always done creative work--oh, and personal training--but I ended up as a nurse tech/cardiac monitoring tech after searching for physical therapy-related positions. Occasionally I stop and observe myself during a shift and say holy cow, you're threading a tube down the throat of a sedated man, or a nurse is consulting you on a heart rhythm. I kinda know my stuff by now, but there are times when I'm like, do you know I'm a theatre major?

And there's something about entering a COVID room and following all the specific instructions for donning PPE: you know this is serious. I always feel like I'm about to perform surgery when I turn around, gloved hands raised, and have someone tie the back of my gown.

Yesterday, I ran to and from the blood bank in order to get blood for a patient who was deteriorating rapidly. Those who know me probably can't imagine me sprinting through two floors of the hospital. I always joked that I'd need to be chased by zombies in order to keep a fast pace, but as it turns out, knowing a man was dying did the trick. Of all my hours in the hospital, delivering that blood to a room full of people working on the patient was probably the moment that made me understand that what I do can make a big difference.

Are you seeing fear among your coworkers? Is the media blowing this all out of proportion?

I'm pretty good at reading people--thank you, theatre degree--and at reading between the lines of articles (my freelance writing experience). What I see is a level of fear, especially those staff members who have loved ones who are at risk, because they see that this virus is not like any other. I also see tremendous anxiety at being asked to perform skills that are new. I never realized this before I entered healthcare, but a nurse/doctor is not a nurse is not a nurse: they are trained for the unit or clinic in which they work. But now nurses are being asked to perform ICU tasks, which I now know are much more involved than I could have guessed--even for techs. Many of these fresh faces look tired under their masks.

And while no one wants this and no one celebrates the horrors, there is certainly a level of curiosity and amazement at work. Nothing like this has been seen in our lifetime. For me, I'm a systems person; I marvel at watching the subtle ways the administration shifts policies nearly every day. I trust the people making these decisions, because they can see the big picture. At the same time, witnessing these changes and trusting the deciders makes me realize the big picture is bleak.

You've said before that you never chose this work. Do you regret the circumstances that deposited you onto the front lines of a pandemic?

When my oldest son left for college this past fall, I had an existential crisis: do I encourage him to follow his dreams, or does he need to pursue a degree that guarantees him a solid living? You always want your kids to avoid the mistakes you've made--in my case, I wished someone had encouraged me to continue in any one of the several fields where my work was respected and I had a chance of moving up. Instead, I floundered from job to job, following my curiosity but also my fear of failure. But just the other day I realized that I was grateful, in many ways, that I didn't pursue a career, because that choice involved staying at home while my kids were young. That choice also means I can't stay at home with them during this quarantine, but I was there for all of those years, and I'm trusting I'll see them again soon.

Hospital work is more exhausting than anything I've ever done, and I'm shocked every time I see a commercial or a sign thanking people like me. But I've found a measure of peace, and will stick with it as long as I can to do my part during this historical time.

The diary starts back here.
Diary 4
Diary 6
Original story


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