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[EDITORIAL] “Help us help you” – COVID unit supervisor describes what it’s like taking care of patients battling the virus.


I am the supervisor of a COVID transitional unit in a large hospital, in one of Alabama’s largest cities. My staff has been staring the COVID-19 pandemic in the face since the third week in March. To say that we were all scared would be an understatement.

This was a new disease that no one knew anything about. It is super contagious and causes those infected to have wild changes in condition. One moment the patient is sitting up eating breakfast and the next they are dead. Seeing death in this manner takes a psychological toll on the people taking care of the patients. To face a deadly virus every day and the toils of death all at once can be exhausting. The summer months were particularly brutal, as we averaged one death per day on the unit. But after the summer months, we had a lull. Things almost transitioned back to normal. There was talk of the unit transitioning back to its old patient population, becoming “normal” again. That feeling was soon squashed after the Thanksgiving holiday. The spike in cases was sharp. We were ready. This is something we had already been through. We had gotten really good at treating this disease, recognizing potential shortfalls and getting those patients to the ICU before their condition progressed too far. We were in the thick of it again, but nothing would compare to our healthcare system being overwhelmed after Christmas and New Years. Two weeks into January, we doubled our highest number of positive patients in house. Other units were converted to COVID-only units. Surgeries were canceled. Resources were stretched to the max. As we stand now, the third week of January, we are slowly seeing a decrease in positive cases.

The vaccine has provided us a way back to normalcy, herd immunity without the harsh and unforgiving effects of the actual disease. By now everything has become political. To mask or not, to vaccinate or not. What I can tell is this, we as healthcare workers don’t care about politics. We want the public to help us. We need all the help we can get after ten months of hell. Wear your mask, PLEASE! If you are able, take the vaccine, PLEASE!

New nurses, barely clear of nursing school, are considering leaving the profession before they get started. There is a bidding war for travel nurses. Hospitals being forced to pay triple and quadruple the normal pay for a “regular” nurse. This is troubling. Small hospitals will be outbid by large system hospitals. This could be the road to even more rural hospitals shutting their doors for good.

My message to the reader: Please help us help you. Mask up, vaccinate and social distance. It could be the difference in your loved one having a hospital bed at your local hospital or being flown two states over for treatment.

How the day works:

6:45 a.m. – Taking note of potential changes in condition that could be deadly for the patient.

7:15 a.m. – Begin rounding on your patients. This is a long process. To enter a room, you must wear a N95 mask, gown, head cover face shield and gloves. These must be changed between rooms.

8:00 a.m. – Pass out meals to patients. Same process with PPE changing every time you enter and exit. This process can take up to an hour to pass out food to all patients.

9-11 a.m. – Start the process over again, this time taking medication into each patient.

12:00 p.m. -Time to start the process of meal tray distribution again. The PPE game continues.

2-4 p.m. -Treat blood sugars, give antibiotics and use any free time to chart events of the day.

5:00 p.m. – The game starts again with meal tray distribution. PPE game continues.

6 p.m. – Finish up charting and get ready to give a report to the next shift.

This sounds like a pretty cut and dry schedule, I know. What can’t be factored into this schedule is the constant changes in a patients condition, treatments for those which can be very lengthy. Also, carrying out new orders, new meds, admission of new patients, discharge of patients ready to head on their way to the next stop in their continuum of care. Factor all of that in and there’s little time for staff to go to the restroom, much less eat a decent lunch. When health care professionals say they are tired, this is why. While all this is going on, the staff are wearing a N95 mask or respirator. If you don’t like your cloth mask you wear into Wal-Mart, you’ll despise the N95, it will suffocate you, and staff members wear them for hours on end.

If you haven’t already, thank a healthcare worker.



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