Hi friends! How’s it going? This post I’ll be recapping my time in New Orleans while working on a COVID-19 unit as a nurse. So, I was going to make this post private originally, but I know a few have said they are eager to hear about it, so I will share. I will say, I am nervous as heck to share this because of how painful the topic of COVID is for many people right now and considering we are still in the thick of it. I wish there wasn’t a crisis to respond to. But sadly, this is the reality of what we are living through. I also want to say, I am not looking for praise or anything, nor is it warranted. I have been in outpatient for majority of this year as an NP student, so this was a drop in the bucket compared to the nurses, MDs, NPs, CNAs, RTs, OTs, PTs, SLPs, etc. who are in the hospital day in and day out. I do think, however, it is still worth documenting and sharing this very real part of history as I have lived it.
So how did I end up going here in the first place? Well a little background- I was in the process of getting a nursing job in a clinic setting while continuing to go through grad school. The interview process was put on hold midway through with COVID going on. Since I had about a month off in between my spring and summer semester, I decided to apply to everything, anywhere in the country to try to help where I could with COVID. DJ was apprehensive about it but also supportive. The New Orleans contract was perfect timing- I was able to take my final exam early, get to New Orleans and return before starting clinicals, just a touch late, after a two week quarantine. I was able to make up the hours quickly though. Anyway, I had never done a travel assignment before, and it had been a little bit since I had stepped foot on the floor. I was nervous for sure, but sometimes you just know you need to do something, and this was one of those times.
In mid-April I packed up my car and grabbed pick-up Starbucks heading out to hit the road.
It was a smooth drive. I just chatted with family and friends the whole time which made the whole trip fly. It was about 7.5 hours total. I arrived at the hotel I’d be staying at that was actually connected to the hospital (which was awesome). I just simply walked to work each day.
I packed my Keurig because, well does that really need an explanation? Lol. I also stopped by a Target when I arrived and stocked up on alll the snacks. I was thankful to have a little fridge and tried to get in veggies and fruit where I could.
We were given a super-speed orientation given the nature of the crises, but it was thorough enough. I scarfed down half of a Larry & Lenny’s cookie before heading to it in the morning- this was one of my favorite snacks while I was there. It kept me nice and full & oh my goodness, they are tasty!
Since I’d be working night shift (7 pm to 7 am), I stayed up as late as I could the night before my first shift to try to flip. I had never worked nights, so I wasn’t sure how my body would respond. Turns out I loved it compared to working days. It helped that I didn’t have to flip back and forth like most people who work nights usually, but surprisingly I slept so well during the day and I felt great and energized on nights. After the assignment, I joked that this explained my insomnia- my circadian rhythm is actually reversed, and I’m apparently nocturnal and did not know it.
On the 16th I woke up around 3:30 pm, did a short insanity max 30 workout in my room to get my blood pumping and then had some coffee and oatmeal while reading my Bible before heading into the first shift. ^My basic-as-it-gets coffee mug from Target that I love oh so much. Lol.
For my ‘lunches’ on shift, I tried to pack things that were easy to eat but somewhat nutritious. My go-to was a mission spinach tortilla with hummus, vegan turkey, spinach, baby tomatoes and hummus. I also went through a phase with stuffed sweet potatoes too. In addition to the wrap, I’d maybe throw in an apple, some dark chocolate, a yogurt and white cheddar hippies snacks.
I usually had about 2 cups of coffee before my shift, but sometimes would up it to three with the third cup accompanying me on my walk to the floor.
When I first stepped on the unit, it was odd seeing extension tubing/cords leading IV pumps outside the room (so nurses could have access without entering the room). Prior to my first shift, I was shown the supply room, given all necessary equipment while I was there and overall felt well equipped to do my job. I worked with solely COVID patients, so it was important that we used strict PPE. Some units I worked on required full “bunny suits” for the duration of the shift and others we gowned immediately before going into the pressurized rooms. The most difficult moments I had with the PPE were when a patient’s oxygen would plummet, and my instincts would urge me to run straight into the room without taking the time to don everything on while battling how important it was to protect ourselves too. It was also tough how we had to limit our contact and only enter the room for necessary interactions, and we clustered care like crazy (giving meds, turning, vitals, etc.). I wanted to just pull up a chair and be with them in this scary time- but it wasn’t exactly possible. The communication barrier with all the masks was frustrating too. But I tried to make the most of every moment to let them know how we cared and were doing our best to get them better.
Some of the shifts I had my own full assignment, other times I would act as a runner and help nurses out on the floor, especially when I was in the ICU. Having runners during COVID is really helpful because if you are in the room and do forget something, you have someone ready to go retrieve it for you so you don’t have to doff and re-don the PPE.
After my shifts, I would take off the PPE before leaving the floor, put my N95 in a paper bag that sealed up and put in a specific pocket of my book bag, and then head immediately back to the hotel. As soon as I entered in the door, I jumped in the shower, then ate breakfast at around 8 am.
I found I usually preferred eating my dinner before my shift and would eat oatmeal right before going to bed. I was on a kick with this mix above with pomegranate and Fage.
I usually slept from 8:30 am to about 2:30/3 pm. Around that time I’d get a call letting me know which unit to head to. I tried to get a short 20-30 min. workout in before my shifts to get a little cardio in and as a mini form of therapy. Then I’d eat my dinner, head to work until 7 am.
A few times I would stop in the cafeteria and use my employee meal voucher to pick up some delicious poke and sushi too.
About ten days into the assignment without ever stepping a foot outside, I decided it was probably time when I had a couple days off. A couple coworkers suggested a trail near the hospital. I decided to check it out, and it was the best decision! I just went during an off-time on the trail and stayed far away from anyone (with my mask on, of course).
For one of my meals, I tried a medley of different cold items including beets, eggplant and couscous. It was a treat!
One day, I had a notification that I had a package at the front desk. I had no idea it was even possible to ship things to the hotel to get to me, but my mom and Pete sent me the sweetest surprise 🙂 (All the snacks were so good).
Another incredible surprise is when I was out on one of my walks my brother and sister-in-law Facetimed me and told me we had another nephew on the way!! He is here now and so perfect <3
Whenever I was on the trail I would look over the bog and see if I could spot any gators! (or are they crocodiles? I never know the difference).
And what do you know!!! Do you see it? (pic below)
There was all kinds of fun wildlife to see on those walks.
The sunsets were just gorgeous.
I had some ripe avocados I needed to use up, so I started having some avocado toast for breakfast. I had an herbal tea with my breakfasts usually to help me unwind and fall asleep.
I was there during Nurse’s Week, so we received the cutest little goodies! All the nurses I worked with on night shift were absolutely amazing people. I still stay in touch with a couple of them today. Also, I want to shout out the awesome respiratory therapists who go above and beyond to keep things afloat- I feel like they are some of the unsung heroes of this whole thing.
I know this post is filled with some nice pictures, but on the other side of this is a devastating reality. This assignment itself was heart breaking. I don’t know how to describe it other than that- I felt a seething anger toward this virus, because all these patients should not have been there suffering the way they were. I hated that they had to be isolated away from everyone in one of the scariest times in their lives. Even writing now about it, it’s hard to find the words. This virus was just wild see up close- the unpredictable nature, the aggressiveness, the whack-a-mole nature of the complications…
Despite the hard and extremely sad moments, there is one instance that I treasure. Around 2 am, one of my patients could not fall asleep for anything, even after administering the PRN meds ordered and repositioning. I asked him if there was anything we could do, anything he could think of that would help. And he said in a dejected tone all he wanted was some ice cream. He did not know the floor actually stocked it, so when I asked him “chocolate or vanilla?” his eyes got wide with surprise. I went and got him some ice cream, and in order to keep his oxygen saturation up, I would take his mask off, have the NC going for backup, he would take a bite, put the mask back on if needed and we would make sure the oxygen was stable before giving another. We had a good little system going. Mask off, take a bite of the ice cream, make sure oxygen is stable…repeat. He told me about his family during this time and actually shared a story about an ice cream shop from his childhood. After eating the ice cream, he fell asleep. I cherish that interaction, and it was the most time I actually was able to spend with a patient.
I don’t think I have ever experienced such a mix of emotions as I did with this assignment. Philippians 4:7 discusses a peace that surpasses understanding. I’m not sure I have ever understood that verse as well as I did in this experience. I felt covered in prayer because my anxiety, apprehension, fear was met with an unexpected stillness as soon I stepped on the floor- an internal stillness that allowed me to have a calmness, clarity and quickness that was necessary for my patients.
After my final shift, I was tested for COVID before returning to Austin. I tested negative, which left me surprised but thankful. (I still waited the full two weeks before heading into clinicals for an extra precaution). I went for one last run on the trail and reflected, unsure how to feel or process everything. Thankfully, the cases were decreasing and they no longer needed travelers by the time I left.
When we moved to Austin, and I had a hard time finding a nursing position that would work with my school schedule and clinical travels, I started questioning my identity as a nurse. I felt like such a fraud at times. I felt my skills slipping further and further away. But being back on the unit, I felt that part of my identity cemented again. Thank you to all who prayed through the assignment. And please keep praying. Please pray that we do get this thing under control, that patients recover and recover quickly, this current spike is halted, grieving families experience are comforted during this time and health care workers are given the strength, energy and resources to make it through this. Thank you tremendously to all out there who have been and are still fighting this out on the front lines.
Stay safe and healthy, all.