I’ve been at the same hospital for 12 years, and in the ICU four years full-time. We’ve had quite a few coronavirus cases, but we have never run out of ventilators or PPE. And California is one of the best places to be a nurse, because we have state-mandated patient-to-nurse ratios.
I can only imagine how difficult it is for people who are losing their livelihoods or their businesses. I sympathize tremendously with those people. But in California, locking down early and quickly made a huge difference in the spread. We were on the trajectory to really take off, and instead it slowed. In a state of 39 million people, we really have a much lower death rate than most places.
Everybody in the hospital is getting their temperature screened, and they have screening questions when you enter the hospital. We are not being tested as a part of our protocols, unless you have symptoms or you feel like you’ve had a direct exposure without PPE. I personally got tested two days ago, because a private company started doing free testing locally. If I’m positive, I’m supposed to have results today. I have no reason to think I would be positive, but part of me was thinking, “Let’s see if what we’re doing at work is working,” because since mid-March, I’ve been fully immersed in COVID-land.
There’s a lot of trust between docs and nurses in the ICU, which is why I really like it. There’s autonomy and collegiality within the nursing staff and the doctor-nurse relationship. Nurses deal a lot with the family and a lot with working through end-of-life matters—the doctors do too, but it’s a different kind of role, between caregiving and medicine.
Not allowing visitors is terrible, in a certain way, especially when we get to some of these tough decisions. We had one coronavirus patient who ended up at the point where he wasn’t going to survive. The family FaceTimed him from the hallway while we did end-of-life care. That was heartbreaking. Your partner of however long—you can’t hold them and touch them while this terrible thing is happening. That has been one of the worst moments for us. It’s a sacred moment to be present at the end of life. You give comfort to the patient but also to the family. To not be able to do that was awful.
Nelltje Berens Prosise ’99, critical care registered nurse, John Muir Health, Concord, Calif.