I never expected that as a Nurse I’d have to take a bullet for a coworker.

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

by Marie, RN

I’m a hospital Nurse during one of the worst pandemics in modern history. Before this crisis is over, I will probably contract COVID-19. That has been a hard thing to accept, but I’m not afraid, because fear won’t do me any good. My patients need me to keep coming to work every day. Still, some things need to change to make our hospitals safer for Nurses and patients.

I’ve been a Nurse for 10 years, all of it with for a large for-profit healthcare provider. They’re good at healthcare-as-a-business, if business means creating soaring profits by cutting corners on Nurse staffing and patient safety. My employer practically created the concept of “flexible staffing” at hospitals, a business model that its competitors have embraced to remain competitive in an industry that — like so many others — focuses solely on the bottom line.

That business model hasn’t changed with the arrival of COVID-19, which as of this writing has claimed 7,500 lives and infected 184,000 people around the world. Instead of being prepared to take the crisis head-on, my colleagues and I have been sent into battle with our hands tied.

Combating any pandemic is extremely complicated. But there are simple things that hospitals can do. Where I work, we’re not even properly screening the patients that come in. The person who meets them at the door should be trained to intercept those who might be infected. It’s an extremely important job, but the people doing it are not healthcare professionals. At my hospital, visitors and non-critical patients alike are walking into the hospital and running amok, asking for masks. And isolation precautions be- damned. Even though we’ve all known about this for weeks, they act as if they just heard about Coronavirus yesterday. I’m talking about management, not the public.

The hospital has failed to properly screen incoming visitors — that’s frightening — but their inability to provide sufficient protective equipment to Nurses is viscerally terrifying. N-95 masks — Amazon’s hottest seller next to hand sanitizer — are being rationed here, like butter during WWII.

A box of these masks sat in the Nurses’ station with writing scrawled on it: “Ask a Charge Nurse before getting mask! One mask for each shift for the whole shift!” The person who wrote that must have known that a single mask cannot safely survive a 12-hour shift. But common sense has been displaced by a panicked attempt to work with what we have.

This is when it really hit me hard. A coworker of mine, and a dear friend, texted me that her hose on her PAPR (Powered Air Purifying Respirator) had cracked mid-shift. One of her patients was a “rule out” for COVID-19, meaning that they were testing the patient for other things to rule out another possible diagnosis before testing them. That Nurse has a baby at home so I offered to step in and take over. Like I said — I’ll probably contract the virus at some point, and my odds for survival are better than most. I never expected that as a Nurse I’d have to take a bullet for a coworker. But I would if I had to.

If the experts are right, hospitals across the country will see a surge of patients in the coming weeks, ours included. The hospital should be ready to implement a plan to segregate patients, suspected cases, and the general public, with an intense focus on sanitization. Most of my managers seem confused about current procedures, so I’m skeptical that we’ll spring a plan into action.

I hope that my employer proves me wrong.

We are RNs and other healthcare professionals in California committed to supporting working conditions that allow us to provide quality patient care and safety.