A Post from the Frontlines

23 Mar

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The world is a different place from the last time I was able to write a post. That is an understatement and obvious enough. It’s a time when we are all reaching out more than ever to the people we love and care about to check in. But I find myself reminded that I am in a different position in this global pandemic than most. I’m a registered nurse working in an emergency room in the heart of one of the most affected places on Earth, New York City.

It’s humbling and encouraging and strange to receive messages from family members and friends saying how grateful they are and how “heroic” me and other medical professionals are. I think it’s an odd thing for us to comprehend, because our worlds are still operating. I still go to work, clock in, do my job, eat my lunch, clock out, go home, and rest up for my next day of work. I understand the curiosity and interest in life at the frontlines, and I hope to give some insight into it.

I was told that the first year of being a nurse is the worst and the most difficult. I was obviously not expecting this on top of everything. My biggest frustration at the moment is the very fact that I’m still considered a “new grad” nurse with under a year of experience. I’m technically still in the training phase of my fellowship, and I’m not supposed to pick up shifts. I asked management if maybe we could work around that since these are extraordinary circumstances. They are still on the fence and leaning toward no. So even though I have a nursing license and 8 months of experience, I’m not allowed to pick up shifts within my hospital system. I’m not sure if that will change, but I’ve been in talks with other hospital systems and the state of New York about being on emergency surge lists. Right now I’m trying to use the days off that I have to rest, eat healthy, and exercise. Working on getting my immune system in the best shape it can possibly be in.

When I think about how this thing has unfolded over the last couple of weeks, I know that everything changed for me when I started hearing the stories coming out of Italy. Like most Americans, I had heard of Covid-19 and didn’t want to buy into the panic of it. The panic didn’t make sense. There’s only a 2% mortality rate, so why are we so nervous? I’m a part of a couple of different nursing forums online, and I started to see desperate pleas from Italian nurses. Their healthcare system was collapsing beneath the weight of this virus. Doctors were having to choose which patients could live or die due to the lack of resources, and cities were unable to find space for the dead bodies that were piling up. From across the globe, nurses were begging us to take this seriously, to prepare for what was coming, to avoid their mistakes. It was the first time I realized this was going to get bad and fast.

The cases started to pile up at my ER. Not confirmed cases, of course due to the unconscionable lack of testing, but patients were showing up with tell-tale stories. “My chest just feels tight.” “I felt better for a couple of days, then everything got worse.” “I just can’t seem to get better.” The news articles I read on my phone began speaking of social distancing and working from home. In Italy, people were locked down in their homes, and I wondered if it would come to that. About a week ago, on my lunch break, I left the chaos of the ER to grab some food and saw the park across the street teeming with people. Everyone was smiling and laughing and enjoying the warmer weather. I stared in disbelief. After an exhausting shift, when I got on the subway to go home around 8pm, the train was packed with people in their 20s, most already a few drinks deep. Their laughter caused them to throw their heads back and whoop. I thought of the petri dish of a train car we were sitting in.

The next day was when they began shutting bars and restaurants down. I felt as sad as anyone to watch my vibrant city be shuttered, but I also knew it was the only way. Something horrible is coming. Or more accurately, it’s here. It’s likely on most surfaces, in most bodies, in thousands of homes, and it has the capability of crumbling everything down. I still look to Italy and hope we’ve done enough to avoid the horrors they are seeing, but only time will tell. As I write this, the country of Italy has 63,927 confirmed cases. My city has 12,305.

The spirits among my co-workers are mixed. Some are in a panic, frustrated and stressed about our lack of PPE (personal protective equipment) and dizzy from the hourly protocol changes from the CDC. Some of my co-workers shrug their shoulders and say that we have to keep going and just get through this, and we will be okay. Regardless of reaction, everyone still shows up every day and puts on the masks that we have, the gowns, the gloves, the goggles, and we do what we can. It’s not an ideal position to be in, but it is our job. I think of my professors from nursing school who talked about working through the AIDS epidemic. I think of nurses of the past that treated typhoid fever, tuberculosis. I think of the mother of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, who founded nursing as profession by volunteering to go to Crimea and help treat the wounded soldiers in a war zone. It’s the legacy of our profession, and I’ve always felt deeply honored to get to do it, especially at a time like this.

I fear for my city. I fear for my fellow nurses. I fear for my friends that no longer have jobs. I fear for all the small businesses that I love in my neighborhood who now have an uncertain future. I fear for what my life will be like in the coming weeks, the uncertainty of what I’ll be asked to do. While I know things are going to continue to get worse, I also know that things will eventually get better. I’m looking at Italy as a worse case scenario of what comes next, but I’m also looking to China as to how to get through. The number of new cases there has dramatically dropped off, and they’ve begun to close their emergency hospital facilities. Our time for that will come too.

 

3 Responses to “A Post from the Frontlines”

  1. Susan Henry Knight March 24, 2020 at 9:14 am #

    Oh, Chrissy, my eyes are filled with tears from reading this. Such eloquence in the painful truth of your words. You are a first responder in the world’s foremost crisis, and you are taking your precious time to share some pieces of that reality with us. Godspeed, my beloved beautiful woman, inside and out. Take care of the gift of your human life, and know how much you matter.

  2. Alan Frey March 25, 2020 at 8:43 am #

    I enjoyed your blog, would like to hear follow up blogs from you. NY appears to be the US epicenter for covin. I’m in Charlotte, NC, we’ll be following NY. I think we all have a bumpy road ahead of us. Btw… Im good friends with Sue McKnight, I believe a cousin of yours. Very grateful for everything the medical community is doing for us.

    Take Care and Stay Save!

  3. Nancy Rowlinson March 26, 2020 at 1:39 pm #

    Thanks, Chrissy! You make it so interesting! It is good for the rest of us, to have an inside view of how it really is for you all. I hope people stop congregating, and it looks like some of that has stopped. Let’s hope.
    I was watching this story on tv about a pizza place there, called Sauce, and how they bring pizzas to all of the hospitals. I saw your hospital, and looked for you, just on the off chance I’d see you in this story. It was a really good story. I might’ve seen a quick shot of you, she sure looked like you! I am glad someone is feeding you!

    Take care of yourself. We are thinking of you!

    Love,
    A. Nancy and U. Gord

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