By Alex McCoy, Contributing Writer, Owner of Fit Travel Life
When the Covid 19 pandemic started ramping up in mid to late March, for many healthcare workers it felt like waiting for a tsunami to hit. We were bombarded with images of nurses in other countries working 18-hour shifts for days at a time, being forced to quarantine from their families, and even getting sick and dying themselves. There seemed to be an imminent threat hanging over everyone in the medical field, and some days it felt like an unbearable thing to carry.
Fast forward almost seven months and the threat is still there, but the annoyance of the weight seems to have lessened. We have begun to realize that this is a marathon sort of experience and definitely not a sprint. A lot of our hospitals have resumed business as “usual” as much as that word can be used these days and our jobs seem to have a feeling of a new normal.
I currently work PRN as a Pediatric ICU and Emergency Department nurse. While we don’t typically get the sicker-than-sick Covid patients, we have still had to do our share of pivoting as a result of the pandemic.
Back in April when hospitals realized they needed to make drastic changes to consolidate PPE, keep patients safe, and see how the number of Covid patients would affect hospital capacity, our unit got shut down completely. We went from a full pediatric ER and PICU within an adult trauma center to holding our inpatients in the ER and not accepting transfers or ambulance calls of any kind.
This was a step taken by hospital administration so we could use the pediatric unit to hold any Covid or Covid-suspected patients. It was actually a great solution in terms of infection prevention, but it took a toll on the pediatric staff.
As PRN staff I was floated or canceled most shifts. I believe one month I worked two of my six scheduled shifts, and both of those were in the NICU. We had to learn how to float to other units with minimal warning. We were being shifted to cover the “PPE Room”–aka to check out and ration life-saving protective equipment to all of my coworkers. At a time when a lot of people were still unaware of the national shortage of supplies, it was extremely difficult to explain to coworkers the need to issue them one mask per shift and save N95 masks for “high risk” departments.
Initially, I felt a deep sense of stress and panic as I began to navigate my new workplace environment and all of the unknowns. I had no idea when I would get to work back in my department. I saw coworkers quitting from the stress and wondered how our unit would handle the stream of people leaving when we finally did open back up again.
But I also saw strength and resiliency. I saw our nurses going above and beyond to make the patients staying in our ER rooms with no shower or private bathroom stay as comfortable as possible. I saw people who were getting floated to new departments put their best foot forward to learn what they could because pandemic or not, those patients still needed us as much as the Covid patients did.
And then when we finally got word that the hospital had reconfigured their plans and we were opening our unit again, I saw the passion all of us had for pediatrics. The pure excitement we felt to be back in our own space, able to offer the quality of care we knew our patients deserved. I saw teamwork as nurses from adult floors were sent to help us as we rebuilt our staff. Resilience from a manager who had to lead us through a time of uncertainty and constant complaints from frustrated staff. And I can’t forget the compassion we received from patients and families who understood we were doing the best we could, even if their stay was not ideal.
Even now, the patience and understanding we receive from families blows me away. I have never had to turn away as many friends and visitors as I have in the last six months, but everyone has taken it politely and with understanding. There is truly nothing worse than telling a sixteen-year-old she can’t visit her best friend who was in a car wreck when you know it would be beneficial to both her and the patient. But I do appreciate the maturity and grace these kids and adolescents have had in navigating this very weird time in healthcare.
While none of us could have imagined when we became nurses or doctors or CNAs or therapists that we would be working in the midst of a global pandemic, I think we can all agree that someday we will have a great appreciation for the fact that “we did it”. We can tell the young nurses and docs about how we not only lived but worked through a global pandemic. The Covid crisis they write about in history books will be something we experienced first hand. And that will be something to be proud of.
Alex McCoy currently works as a pediatric travel nurse. She has a passion for health and fitness, which led her to start Fit Travel Life in 2016. She travels with her husband, their cat, Autumn and their dog, Summer. She enjoys hiking, lifting weights, and trying the best local coffee and wine.
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