365 days of Covid-19 from a licensed practical nurse (LPN)

Last year when the pandemic began, we were informed our unit was shutting down in preparation to be the unit for Covid-19 patients. All elective surgeries were cancelled and our patients were often not coming to the hospital out of fear. Therefore, my team and I were redeployed from our area to wherever we were needed until our unit reopened. This was very stressful as I would show up to work and not know where I would be working. The hospital environment was a scary place as we were all learning how the virus spread and hearing about worst-case scenarios like in Italy and New York! This caused a lot of anxiety and uncertainty for our team, but we got through it together.

After a couple of months, we started getting Covid-19 patients admitted to our area. I was scared at first not knowing how that would be. I would go home each night and take off all my clothing in the garage and shower immediately in fear I would spread the virus to my family. Even before the latest restrictions, I really limited my contact with family members and friends as I was in direct contact with the virus each and every day I worked. Early on I remember one particular young man really struggling to breathe and had to be moved to ICU. This was a tough reality check for me as it didn’t just impact the elderly as we often think. It was also very scary for the patients. During those first months, they were completely isolated – NO family members could visit them, Covid patient or otherwise. There were many times I would sit and hold a patient’s hand, sometimes as they took their last breath. These patients were treated like our family as they had to be isolated from theirs. We would also help them FaceTime their loved ones with iPads. Looking back, I can honestly say that all patients were treated the same, with or without Covid, and our team was strong and stuck together. I don’t remember any staff member refusing to give care to a patient, despite our fear in the earlier days.

The harsh reality of the personal protective equipment (PPE) wore on us and still does. Our faces have rashes, and our hands are always so dry from the alcohol, but we are used to it now. The PPE struggles are also with the visiting family members. In the spring when patients were finally allowed to have 1 family member visit, we would have to teach family how to “don” and “doff” (gear up and take off) the PPE – which is not easy. Sometimes they would be so scared of the hospital environment that we would have to meet them at the door outside the hospital with the PPE. The worst part of the PPE, however, is when a patient is in crisis. We have oxygen monitors on our Covid patients, and if their alarm went off, we would have to take precious minutes to get geared up before we could go help them breathe. This went against what we are trained to do, save lives, but safety had to, and still has to, come first. This is very hard.

Another issue that has been tough is staff having to stay home themselves and isolate for 10-14 days. Being short-staffed and working overtime has been the norm. Those that were able to come to work would have to pick up the shifts to cover those who could not. AHS had set up strict protocols to keep staff who may be infected at home. Our manager was great at making sure we had the coverage and supporting us through the stressful times. There was one pay period I remember I had 36 hours of overtime on top of full-time work! The exhaustion was real.

Looking back, now it is our new normal. I have managed to keep my stress levels down, and our team has become closer and stronger in the past year. Our unit staff has all had the opportunity to be vaccinated. This won’t change how we treat the patients or the safety protocols. It is, however, another layer of protection I am very happy to have! We don’t know what the future holds for us on our floor, but we are used to Covid-19 now. In some ways, there is less stress than this time last year, but in some ways more. It has been an exhausting year for us. We love our job and the patients, and that’s why we do what we do.