I am a nurse practitioner in long term care facilities where I work with the most vulnerable, and I honestly feel like this is my calling. One morning in late March, I arrived to my facility, taking my time to stock my pockets with sanitizer and put on my surgical mask. When I got in, the nurse notified me that one of my patients had a cough. I didn’t think much of it. At this time there were no positive cases in my facility, but I decided to check her for COVID. Testing and COVID were new and we were learning and adjusting to information and recommendations daily. Days later, my patient’s test came back positive and from that positive test on, another resident developed a fever every few hours followed by another positive test.
Weeks earlier, I had sat in the office with a student I was precepting at one of my LTC facilities. We discussed this novel Coronavirus that had been going around Wuhan China. At the time, it seemed so far away and my focus was still on the typical Influenza that was deadly. I spent my time advocating for the flu vaccine and doing my best to keep my small children protected during the winter months. It was not long after this conversation that Italy was getting hit hard by COVID. Thousands were dying daily, cities were locked down, and my friend, who was a nurse in Italy, was telling me the stories of what seemed like a nightmare. She warned that two weeks prior, she was in my shoes, thinking she would not be affected by this virus. Her stories gave me enough pause to warn my friends. I started telling them to slowly stock up on toilet paper, sanitizer and other essentials. Everyone thought I was overreacting.
Cases in my facility climbed, treatment was limited and their lives were in my hands. I had a list of orders, mostly lab work and symptom management that worked until about day eight. After that, hypoxia would set in and intubation was required. Countless patients were sick all at once with a new virus I was still learning about. I watched them scared. I watched them suffer without their family. I spent my days talking with family members scared for their loved ones. I spent my days filling out death certificates. I spent my days crying and praying.
Before COVID, I arrived to work with confidence. I’d grab my lab coat and my lunch with enthusiasm and head into work. But eventually, I found myself sitting in the car afraid to enter the building. My legs shook as I applied my PPE – hair net, N95 and surgical mask, shield, gown, shoe covers. I checked my patients’ vitals every few hours anticipating the next fever and feeling like all I had left was to cry and pray.
At home the anxiety was crippling. I was – and still am – tested for COVID twice a week. Even so, I wore a surgical mask and didn’t kiss my kids or husband for months. We sent home my 80 year-old mother-in-law who had been staying with us for fear of potential exposure. We had our stock pile of essentials and my kids and husband were all home indefinitely. Our lives were unrecognizable.