I’ve been a nurse for nearly 20 years. My specialty is pediatrics and I have worked in five different teaching hospitals in four different states. Most of my career was spent in the pediatric emergency department at a level one trauma center. I have seen H1N1 which affected children the hardest, have trained to receive patients with Ebola, have been through countless drills for mass casualties, and hold multiple certifications in emergency room nursing. Like most nurses working in large, urban hospitals; I am trained for any and every situation. But as many others will agree, this pandemic has been an unprecedented experience in my career.
Today, I am no longer at the bedside, I am now a pediatric nurse practitioner and work at a primary care pediatric clinic. I was asked by a longtime friend to comment on my perspective regarding the current COVID-19 pandemic. What are things you could perhaps learn and understand from me, a healthcare professional seeing patients and taking care of families during this pandemic.
First of all, I wanted to say that these are uncharted times.
We haven’t encountered a pandemic for over a hundred years. It hasn’t been a thought in our daily lives and now it is all consuming. Schools are cancelled, we have been ordered to stay home in this state until at least June 10th, and we are faced with many new and uncertain decisions daily. We are also seeing this in a time when information spreads quickly and we have more access to news and statistics than we ever had before.
These factors leave many of use with questions and we are left wondering why we need to take these seemingly draconian steps to thwart this virus.
In order to answer these questions, we first need to understand the virus.
Coronavirus is a novel virus, meaning we have never seen it in humans before. For a virus to mutate and make a leap from animal to human is quite extraordinary. That is also why is difficult to know how it changes in its human host. What we do know about it, however, is that it is highly contagious.
We in healthcare are doing our level best to take care of you and your loved ones. What I am seeing and hearing as a provider is that a lot of you are scared. I am, too and I, like you, have children and a family whom I want to protect.
When I come home from work, I cannot kiss or hug my husband or children because I don’t know if I have come into contact with Coronavirus or not. I leave my shoes outside, and remind my little one not to run up and hug me – I have to shout at him, “Stay back! I had a patient with symptoms today; I have to take a shower!”
As I don’t have the ability to test all of the children I see, I am now scrutinizing every fever and every cough. But the worst part is wondering if I will be the one to bring it home to my family. And although, we are all young and healthy; I know that young and healthy people are also getting really sick. So just know that we in the healthcare community are just as concerned as you. And as healthcare providers, we are roughly 3-5x more likely to contract this disease because we are exposed more than the general public.
But, that does not mean we are powerless to fight it. There ARE things we can do slow down and even stop the spread of this deadly virus.
We are all familiar with the basic precautions being advised during the Coronavirus pandemic:
- WASH YOUR HANDS! Washing your hands as often as possible is essential. Be sure to use an antibacterial soap if you can, use warm water, and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Be sure to rub your hands vigorously and get the tops of your hands, as well as your palms. The friction created by “scrubbing” will actually help to remove the virus should you come into contact with it.
- If you do have to go out, wear a mask – even a cloth mask that covers your mouth and nose will help to prevent the spread of the virus.
- Disinfect surfaces as often as possible. Disinfecting wipes and/or a clean cloth with disinfecting spray or soap should be used on counters, door knobs, etc.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes. Many of us are fighting allergies, so it’s important that we remember to keep our coughs and sneezes covered by using a tissue or sneezing/coughing into the crook of our arms – not our hands!
However, one of the best ways we have to fight this virus, is to stay apart.
A virus cannot live without a human host for long, if we physically distance ourselves from others, the virus dies off. That is why physical distancing or social distancing is so important.
Which brings me to my next point, simply STAY HOME.
Hold your family near, call your parents and loved ones and check on them. FaceTime or video chat with them if you miss them, but don’t go to see them or if you do, keep a physical distance of at least six feet.
If you develop a cough, fever, sore throat or generally don’t feel well; stay home. If you are managing your fever and cough and not feeling short of breath; stay home. You can always call your doctor or other medical professional, but you don’t need to rush to my clinic to be tested as we simply don’t have enough tests. This means that we may never know the exact number of people who have contracted this disease, but remaining safe in self-quarantine is always better than risking the chance of infecting others. However…
Last but not least, if you need to go to your doctor or even the emergency room, call ahead so that the staff there can prepare.
We want to see you and treat you, but also want to be prepared so that we can protect you – and ourselves – from exposure.
Social distancing is hard on all of us, but it’s important to remember the good that comes from it – even in the midst of a pandemic.
Not only does social distancing help to slow the spread of the virus, but it teaches us to slow down. We have been forced to stay home and really take a look at our needs. Sure, it’s great to have a new outfit for spring or another new pair of shoes, but do we really need them? And more importantly, now that our decisions to go out could put others in jeopardy; should we give in to our wants over our needs? The answer is no. That is simple. Staying out of the public and away from others is the best way to slow the spike in new cases and keep the hospital admissions low, or at least manageable, for our healthcare teams who are on the front lines.
And to my wonderful patients, I miss you; I hope you are well and enjoying your time at home at this slower pace. We will see each other again. I will still be here to watch and help you grow and to support your families in any way I can. I love what I do, I chose to care for people – it is who I am and I will never stop.
Stay well and be safe, and thank you for supporting us. Thank you for your words of encouragement and mask donations. I am seeing so much good in our world during this difficult time. Let’s hope that we never forget what it means to be there for one another and to lend a helping hand. We are all in this together.