Closed to all visitors, quarantine, and social distancing are all words and phrases that have become sorely familiar during this pandemic called CoVID. From the inside as a nurse who cares for elderly patients in a nursing home the details leave pained realities. Imagine not being able to be hugged for a year. The usual hugs that get showered on residents at these facilities from family and staff are now considered possibly deadly. Keeping dementia patients quarantined is a daily losing battle.
N-95 masks that nurses wear are tight so no air gets in, which means they leave deep imprints, especially after having to wear them for a 16 hour shift. When leaving work I would take my shoes off and place them in a certain place in the car, drive home taking my scrubs off immediately, and heading straight to the shower so that my wife was kept safe. Prior to CoVID hitting the facility I work at, anxiety was easily triggered because of the impending doom of seeing how other nursing homes were hit. Would we escape it? Would someone be irresponsible and not wear the corrective protection in a room and infect others before I could stop it? Would the shield, N95 mask, gloves and proper hand washing be enough to protect my family if CoVID hit before we knew it? These questions were on my mind throughout work. When I was off work every aspect of outside life was geared toward making smart choices to protect my family and my patients at work. My suspicion was confirmed later in the year that I would not end up spending Christmas with my family.
For months CoVID was kept out of our facility by the diligent effort of co-workers and management. In one day, the dominoes began to fall. One after another came up positive for CoVID. Then patients were moved quickly around the building. with the direction depending on if they were positive or negative. Wheelchairs heading in opposite directions held masked patients that soon occupied rooms with pictures of family members that didn’t belong to them. Each had only a couple belongings chosen from the very few that are dwindled down from a move into a nursing home. They were separated into warm and hot units. Warm meant that they had been near others with CoVID and hot meant they had CoVID. A large majority of our patients eventually became infected. Days later came our vaccines, a few days too late.
Most nurses have gotten CoVID working in this nursing home. I feel ashamed that earlier in 2020 I would have judged those nursing homes as having poor care. I have since changed my thinking. Last week a CNA named Teresa died from CoVID. She had worked at this particular nursing home for years, taking all kinds of responsibilities from nurse aide work to housekeeping. Wherever she was needed, that was the work she did, a rare quality among many of us Americans. Teresa was not born here but gave the ultimate sacrifice caring for others’ grandmothers and grandfathers, fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, and sisters and brothers. Her long-time husband that also worked at the home is left without her due to this horrid disease.
When caring for a dying patient during this pandemic, I had a family member ask me if I could “expedite” the situation. Flabbergasted by the question, with an awkward pause, I replied “No, we don’t do that.” It’s a heartbreaking reality of what a nurse goes through. It’s heartbreaking what patients and family go through. I know I shouldn’t have judgement for those thoughts and words she had. Honestly though, they crushed me. Nights before having to go to bed were accompanied with a glass of wine or two knowing the harsh reality that those I’ve cared for some will not make it through this pandemic.
Lately, I have been reading a book called Letters from the Dust Bowl2. They are a collection of letters by Caroline Henderson from her farm in the panhandle of Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl. They leave me with a deep sense of responsibility for recording the history that I am living through which was the reason for this article. Her realistic view coupled with hope helps me see that all things eventually pass. Although her fight for her land and what she and her husband had built lasted much longer than she anticipated, they made it through to the other side. The vaccine has given many of us hope. I have received both shots now of the Pfizer vaccine and I feel very lucky for it as of yesterday, only 8% of the country has been vaccinated1.
Sarah Popejoy Jackson
This article was written on February 5th, 2021.
- NPR article, “How Is The COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign Going In Your State?”
- Letters from the Dust Bowl by Caorline Henderson and Edited by Alvin O. Turner