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COVID-19 ripped me away from my patients.

October 24, 2020

Member Voices

Part of a series: COVID-19 — Nurses’ Notes from the Front Line

by Jennifer Gooding, RN

When I decided at a young age that I wanted to pick a good career, Nursing was the only choice. I come from a family of Nurses. I heard their stories of helping families in times of great need. That really stuck with me. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

I’ve been an RN for 11 years, all of them at Riverside Community Hospital. It turned out to be exactly what I wanted. I love bedside nursing, meeting patients and families, helping them understand the disease process, making their hospital stay a little bit better. I treat them like they’re my family.

Then the pandemic hit. Families weren’t allowed to be with their loved ones. We were all our patients had. And then I was ripped from my patients.

One day in May, hospital management moved all the COVID-19 patients to our floor. The Nurses caring for those patients were now sharing our medication room, our break room, our locker room. I told management that this was dangerous and they looked at me like I was crazy. What could possibly happen? You’re not assigned those rooms. You’re fine.

Three days later, three of us were ill with COVID-19. Then six or seven others got it. Then another Nurse went out. Our Charge Nurse got it. Then a week or two later, four Nurses in another unit on that floor got it.

When the first group of us fell ill, management actually jokingly asked us if we all shopped at the same grocery store.

According to my Union, my hospital has the most staff infections of any hospital where Union members work. We’ve already lost two colleagues, a lab technician and a custodian. How many more memorials do we need to hold?

Nurses have suspected all along that this was a completely airborne disease, despite what the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization were saying at the time. Even so, I was shocked when I got COVID-19. I had been so vigilant about sanitizing everything. I washed my hands before removing my mask. I washed my hands after removing my mask. I wore gloves and as much PPE as the hospital would provide.

But we didn’t stand a chance. With the COVID-19 Nurses changing in and out of contaminated scrubs in our shared break room’s bathroom, it’s no wonder we got sick.

But I was in for another shock: the severity of my illness.

I’m a very healthy person. I run and work out every day that I’m off work. Even my own Primary Care Physician said “you’ll be fine.” He was shocked by how sick I got. “This shouldn’t have hit you this hard.” I didn’t have any pre-existing conditions. We realized that my high viral load meant that I had been exposed to a huge amount of the virus. I ended up with every symptom and complication, except fever. I ended up getting pneumonia in one lung. It was five weeks before I could return to work.

Finally, there was shock number three…

During my first day back at work, my oxygen level plummeted to 82% [anything below 90% is considered dangerously low]. I became confused. I broke out into a sweat. I had to stop working again until I could be sure that I was strong enough. This was definitely the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. It took fifteen more weeks to recover. Even now, I can only work every other day. The day after my shift I spend on the couch recovering.

Even after everything we went through, I feel like we’re just statistics to our hospital’s administrators. Even now, after proving that there’s no such thing as a “clean” unit with this airborne disease, we still have to fight for PPE. They’re testing patients less that they were a few months ago. They should not be letting families into the hospital right now as we head into flu season. It’s gotten to the point that I bring my own PPE to work right now, even though protective gear is something that my employer should provide. While we get daily reports on how many COVID-19 positive patients we have in the hospital, we never hear a tally of how many positive staff there are. My employer should take every precaution to ensure my health and safety.

Sadly, I no longer trust them to.