When I heard about this new disease, the coronavirus, I initially thought, “This is a disease far away from me. This is happening in China. Maybe the government is overplaying what is going on. There is no way this is as bad as they are saying. It is similar to the flu. In fact, the flu is more deadly than this. It will not affect me…”
Boy, was I wrong!
My first experience with the disease happened before the big changes occurred in New York. My friends and family were sitting down to the Purim seudah when we all received an email stating that our children had been exposed to the virus at school the previous week, and that the school would be shut down, with classes being converted to distance learning. My first thought was that my son would be in quarantine and that now I might expose my patients to this disease. My second thought was, “Now I have to be a mom, nurse practitioner, and teacher. How am I supposed to do that while working the night shift?”
It wasn’t long before the rest of the state was shut down and we were all in the same boat.
About a week later, I understood why we were in isolation. The hospital where I work started to see a large influx of patients, and new Covid-19 units were opened to help manage it. My schedule was adjusted by management to help avoid exposure and keep us safe, but that also meant another new change for me – working on Yom Tov and Shabbos. That was something that I never imagined having to do in my career. I have always been fortunate enough to have employers who were happy to accommodate my religious beliefs. However, I understood the dire situation we were in and that these changes were necessary. With a consultation from a trusted rabbi, I was able to comfortably agree to this schedule.
My managers were doing what they could to protect me. But what protective equipment would I have? What about the patient population – would I now be working in a completely different unit?
We were given one N95 mask, one face shield, and a pair of goggles. The N95 was to be used all day, the face shield and goggles to be sanitized and reused daily. In the past we would use a new N95 each time we entered a patient room, not one per day. Of course, guidelines were changing by the second. I was just grateful to have my one mask when so many had none.
Being a nurse practitioner (NP) during this time carries risks. Working in an ICU makes those risks even higher. Each day as I went to work, I would worry about the hospital “redeploying me” away from my trusted co-workers and the comforts of my department to an unknown “Covid-19 unit.” Hearing horror stories of those who were deployed there made my fear rise exponentially. Stories that included patients, despite having a breathing tube, being unable to breathe, nurses having to lay them on their stomachs to increase the ability of their lungs to take in oxygen, and giving a little known malaria medication as a treatment for a virus we know little about. Of course, my redeployment would only happen if there was no need for my neurosurgical NP expertise.
Before this era of Covid started, we would see multiple neurosurgical emergency cases a day. Now that number dwindled, some days down to zero. I kept asking myself: Where are the patients with strokes or brain bleeds? We later learned that those patients were so afraid to come into the hospital for fear of contracting Covid-19 that they stayed home, many dying there. That, to me, was one of the scariest thoughts – so many who could have been saved had resigned themselves to the fact that they would either live paralyzed for the rest of their lives or would rather die at home with their family than die of coronavirus in the hospital.
I don’t know what the future will look like, but I do know is that this is my new reality for now: juggling fear of the unknown, acceptance of what has already happened, and the will to try and help all those that I can.