The morning of March 4, 2020, was a bit different from my usual workday routine, although it didn’t start off that way. When my alarm sounded at 0500, I said my morning prayers, got dressed, ate my usual breakfast, and prepared to go to work. But the routine changed when I stepped into the unit and looked at my assigned patients for the day: one of my four patients was a rule-out COVID-19 case. Seeing three different isolation signs posted at my patient’s door was overwhelming, not to mention the powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) cart outside the room.
After the morning huddle, I took report from the night nurse. I was a bit apprehensive and anxious about having my patient with possible COVID-19, but proceeded to get educated on donning and doffing my personal protective equipment. It was the first time in my 30 years of nursing career to wear a PAPR. I’m grateful to the “IP Nurse of the Day” for assisting me every step of the way.
The day went by fast and was not as bad as I expected it to be. We had great support from nursing management, medical team, and infectious disease team on top of our charge nurse who was always there for me. I was able to compose myself and gained more confidence as the hours passed.
The best thing that happened was being able to establish rapport with my patients at the start of my shift, thanks to the 56-second connection that we implemented. SOUP & SALAD, a patient experience tool our unit developed, truly works. I was able to make a connection with all four of my patients, even while clustering care to limit exposure to the patient with possible COVID-19. The shift ended with the devastating news that my patient tested positive for the deadly virus; the second case in our hospital. Being able to show empathy to this patient, who was at the lowest moment of her life, was very fulfilling. I felt like I made a difference.
My actions after leaving the unit at the end of my shift differed from my normal routine. I had to disinfect all of my paraphernalia meticulously, wash really well, and change into fresh clothes. Once I reached my garage, I disinfected my shoes in a bleach solution my husband had prepared, stripped off my newly changed clothes, and put on a robe before going inside the house. I then took a hot shower for 20 minutes, followed by a sip of hot ginger, lemon, and honey tea before going to bed.
Our son’s immunosuppressant therapy had been discontinued 2 months earlier, which made be extra cautious.
The next day was back to work and another day full of anxiety. The nursing management team was there to thank and support staff, making us feel less anxious. However, we still had to cope with succeeding shifts that were full of changes and updates. Work and home routines were modified to accommodate the special care we need to practice to prevent us from contacting the virus.
On the home front
Schools were closed, and social distancing was initiated along with sheltering at home orders. People were panic buying and hoarding canned goods, paper towels, and most of all toilet tissue, which I find mind-boggling. Rice became scarce, along with flour and yeast. Rice is a staple at our house, but we substituted riced cauliflower or purple sweet potato. Going out once a week for grocery shopping remains difficult because you have to be vigilant with every move. Masks are a must.
I decided to learn how to sew and have spent considerable time baking, which is my favorite pastime and hobby. Live, Love, and Bake has become my motto. I have also started a Pray & Light to Fight campaign to end the pandemic. With my co-workers and their respective families, we prayed devoutly and simultaneously in solidarity every 8 PM with candles lighted.
A new challenge
Our unit closed on March 27, 2020, due to low census. The anxiety of having a patient with COVID-19 was replaced with another anxiety—floating. We could only use emergency administrative leave if other means were exhausted. Another option was to use holiday or vacation time. I decided to take a week off by using my vacation hours, and then float the next week if necessary. The week off was very beneficial, including giving me time to think, build my strength, and fight my fears. I was able to spend quality time with myself and my family.
Surprisingly, I found floating to be more fulfilling than anxiety causing. I found out how other units run, learned extra skills, and most of all, made new friends. Generally, I can say my hospital’s staff members are friendly. They provide you with selfless assistance and guidance. Although I can see the pressure and anxiety in some faces, I understand it’s expected, given that we are in a pandemic. However, it’s a good time to give ourselves credit for surviving the pandemic so far. That credit includes support from managers, who have stood by us, listened, acknowledged our concerns, and developed plans every step of the way. We’re still dealing with the pandemic, but with the support of each other and managers, we’re bound to sail through these tough days.
Dinah Ginete is a clinical nurse III and unit quality and safety representative at University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, California.