Heidi Hough, BSN, CIC

Location: Commerce City, CA

Title: Infection Prevention & Control Professional

Company/Organization: SCL Health

First Certified: November 2020

In February 2020, my colleagues and I watched and read news reports waiting for the first case of the novel virus to show up in our state.  The first documented case was 3/5/2020 and marked the change of my personal life and career.  I remember thinking that Colorado and my hospital could be different and we could contain this and limit the exposures.   Over a half of a million cases later, I feel incredibly foolish and naïve.  In the third week of that same month, I was standing at the ED ambulance bay, escorting a critically ill patient in to a negative air pressure room for immediate intubation and then going back to explain to his ill wife that she could not come into the hospital.  What I didn’t tell her was that she may never see her husband alive again.  This was when I recognized that the walls were falling down around me and my colleagues.  I nearly crumpled to the floor with this strong sense of doom, but I didn’t.  Instead,I walked back to my office in a daze that stayed with me the rest of the day.  For the next four weeks, when I looked at the hospital census and monitored isolation statuses, I looked for his name and silently thanked any available deity for blessing him with life and his family with the hope of seeing him again one day.

The next chapter of my life was this constant whirlwind of trying to keep up with the changes that we faced every day in Incident Command.  We were trying to protect our associates and patients while combatting this virus that we weren’t really sure of.  A stream of unusual and bizarre questions and situations arose on a near daily basis.  Add that to continually changing guidance provided by the CDC, state health departments, local government and numerous other scientific experts and we now have a constantly evolving approach to containing a little known virus.  My head was spinning every day and one of the most important lessons was to begin every statement and guidance with “according to recent developments and advisement.”  We were losing credibility with our associates during the frequent changes made to our PPE and isolation guidance and protocol.  We had to admit that this is an evolving virus and we are doing our best to protect everyone based on the information we’re receiving.  To add insult to injury, we had to explain the PPE deficits and assure staff that we were doing our best to keep them safe.  It was a real tightrope walk and I would see frequent jokes like, “Don’t ever question my Diet Coke at the nurse’s station again.”  As a nurse, I understood the message.  Never in my life have I experienced such conflicting emotions of success and failure on a nearly daily basis.  I feel as though I’ve been to war.  My nemesis was invisible and used questionable and unknown tactics that were completely unpredictable and bewildered the experts.  Early in the battle, I fell to the virus and I carry some scars over a year later.  I can live without my sense of smell and lack of ability to taste.  I will be able to share stories of the year 2020 and the virus in my later years.  After everything is said, let me express my endless gratitude for the vaccine!  I will always advocate and appreciate it.