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Nurses working in COVID-19 unit bravely face challenges

VIEWPOINT

We’ll never forget the day our unit was converted into a “warm” unit, which is an isolation unit for patients who are either COVID-19 positive or suspected positive. We opened in one day. At first, we thought, “why us?” but then quickly realized, “why not us?!” We knew we could face this challenge, that we were the nurses for this time and would do everything we could to take care of our patients, just as we always do. Of course, we were a little afraid, which was to be expected in a quickly and ever-changing situation. But we knew this was our calling.

As nurses we instinctively run into risky situations and make sacrifices to help those in need. However, this was new for all of us — a virus and threat we never experienced. The sacrifices are different, life-altering and far-reaching.

Our daily routines are different — both at work and at home. To protect our loved ones, we strip off our clothes outside our homes, take showers in our backyard with newly homemade contraptions, or beeline directly to the bathroom to sterilize ourselves from head to toe in a blistering hot shower. We stay away from our loved ones — sleeping apart, some of us on the couch, others in a tent in the backyard or in a hotel room away from our families. We have to stop our kids from running up to hug us as we step foot in the door — sorry honey, no hugs or kisses for now — as much as they need us, their mommies and daddies, during this emotionally-wearing pandemic. All this is part of the new norm. We are lepers in our own homes and in our community. Some of us have lost babysitters because of the fear. We are told by our neighbors, friends and strangers to “stay away.” We knew caring for patients would be frightening, but the effects have been harder than we ever expected. But from the moment we took that oath, and for many far before that, when it comes to compassionate care there is no hesitation and we continue to show up.

Within the hospital walls our role is all-encompassing. We not only provide medical care to our patients but we have also taken on other duties — disinfecting our unit and delivering food to our patients — to protect other employees and keep them from having to enter our unit. For 12 hours a day we wear tightly fitted N95 masks, face shields and other protection, that dig into our nose and face leaving us sore and bruised, like battle scars. Multiple times a day, before and after entering any room, we carefully and meticulously “don” and “doff” our personal protection equipment (PPE), looking at our reflection in the mirrors set up next to each patient door to ensure we are protected and we’re protecting our patients. It is exhausting, sweaty, grueling work, but we wouldn’t be anywhere else. This is our calling, our life purpose. We have always been proud to be nurses and have recognized the work of our team, but this experience has brought us even closer. Now we are family, closer than ever, literally protecting each other with our lives.

We write this not for recognition, but because we want our community and our colleagues to have a glimpse into how life has changed for us and perhaps gain a little bit of understanding from our neighbors and community. Because despite the tough days when we wish we could get a simple hug, even with the whispers from across the bank counter or concerned looks from neighbors, we are proud to take care of this island’s COVID-19 patients. They are isolated, even from us. We sense their loneliness and wish we could spend more time in their presence, to comfort them, tell a story, and listen. And while this has been a frustration, we are grateful that at one of the scariest times of their lives we can be there for them. We are not to be feared, we are protected and are doing everything we can to protect all of you. And we will be here for you and your family for whatever comes next.

* Laurie Chock, registered nurse, is nurse manager of the COVID-19 unit at Maui Memorial Medical Center. This viewpoint represents all of the nurses who work in the unit.  

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