A nurse working on her hospital’s ‘COVID-19 floor’ shares her workday routine, advice for the public

"We're all scared, because we're all just as human as everybody else. However, because we made the decision to be nurses, we go into work every day."

A mask is sanitized during a demonstration of the personal protective equipment training for the coronavirus at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Northridge, California.

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This story was told by Natalie M. Pereira, a Registered Nurse (RN) at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance – Clinton Hospital, Leominster Campus, and has been transcribed and edited from a conversation with Kristi Palma.

My name is Natalie Pereira. I work at Leominster Hospital. I am an RN. I have been at that hospital for 34 years as a medical-surgical nurse. When the coronavirus crisis began, my med-sug floor became the “COVID-19” floor. I work 40 hours a week. I just spent the weekend working on the COVID side of our floor.

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All the possible rule-outs, the ones awaiting tests results that needed to be admitted, come to our floor. I’ve had a dramatic change in my daily life because now, with each of these patients that are still pending results, I need to wear full protective gear — the PPEs everybody is talking about. I have to wear all of that to go into a room. You can’t just walk into a room to change the TV station or answer the phone. You need to put all of that gear on. So it is quite a challenge because putting it on and taking it off is not a one-minute thing. It takes quite a while to get yourself safely dressed to go into the patient’s room.

Our biggest challenge that we’ve been facing is the length of time it takes for these tests come back. That has since changed. When we first started taking these patients, they were telling us it was six to seven days. But now they have another test that they do that, I think, it’s a 24- to 48-hour turnaround time, which helps a lot because the majority of our patients all have come back negative. I haven’t been to work today [Monday], so I don’t know if anybody has come back positive, but as of yesterday when I left they were all negative, which is quite a relief for everybody. It also helps reduce the use of the protective equipment if the [results] come back negative, quickly. Because when you go into a room, it’s not just you. There are other people that also go into the rooms — the certified nursing assistants, the lab people, the doctors, the nurses. So, as of this morning, they have put something out at our hospital to reduce the number of people that go into each patient’s room to limit the contact, which I think is a great idea. So now the burden will mostly be on the nurses to go in and do the majority of the care that’s involved.

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They have closed down the hospital entrances and exits. So you can only go in through one door. It’s quite a process. And they screen you when you get there. They ask you questions. They ask you if you have a fever. If there’s any question of that, they pull you over to the emergency room and check you out over there.

As far as equipment, we were told on Friday that we were running low on N95 masks, which is the most essential part of our equipment. They are working feverishly and diligently to try to get more equipment, but it is not just us. It is nationwide, worldwide that people are trying to get this stuff, so I get that it’s not an easy fix to just run to the stockroom and get more masks.

We’re all scared, because we’re all just as human as everybody else. However, because we made the decision to be nurses, we go into work every day. What we try to do is we try not to pass that along to the patients. We go in, we treat them like human beings. They are very isolated. They have limited company. There’s no visitors allowed in our hospital. So these are trying times out there. But we treat our patients as best we can.

The information is so fluid. What you hear in the morning can be different in the afternoon. That’s the hardest part, knowing what we’re supposed to be doing and what we’re not supposed to be doing. As we get further along. I’m hoping in the next few weeks they’ll have more information about COVID-19; what it is, how to treat it, and how to treat it efficiently.

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I live by myself so I don’t have any worries about bringing stuff in to other family members. I know that there are many nurses with families, young children, and elderly parents. I’ve been listening to what they’re doing. Like, they set up a basket outside the house so when they come home, they strip down, throw their uniform and shoes into a bin, change into other clothes, and then go in and take a shower.

I want the public to know that we are so committed to taking care of our patients. It’s all hands on deck. And everybody is trying to do what’s best to keep us all safe.

We can give all the care you need if you get sick. But people need to understand that we’re not kidding when we say stay home, wash your hands, self distance as much as possible — even more than you think you should. Just stay away from other people. Don’t allow your kids and teenagers to gather in small groups. And if you feel sick, call your doctor.

And wash your hands. I can’t say it enough.

 


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