It’s been 80 days since my unit became the COVID-19 floor. I remember dating my PPE bag 3/25 as my boss was making the announcement that we were going to only have COVID patients. We had to wear masks at all times, we had to start being screened for fevers and get the same, repetitive question at the door, “do you have any symptoms?”
It’s been 80 days. In these 80 days, I’ve seen more death and decline than in my entire career. I’ve seen so many families torn apart from this virus — all from behind a FaceTime screen since we don’t allow visitors at the moment. I’ve seen perfectly healthy individuals dance around the grave — and it’s our job to fix them. One minute they’re stable, the next they’re laying on their bellies getting intubated. And the only person there is — someone behind a giant blue trash bag-like gown, a mask, and face shield. They can’t even see our faces.
For 80 days, we’ve had to fear bringing this home to our families. Stripping at the door and showering before you even make contact with loved ones. Shoes in a bag in your car. Every day – new scrubs, scrub cap, and mask. Change shoes in the car. Wipe them off before you leave your shift. Every. Single. Day.
For 80 days, we’ve worn masks for 13 hours straight, swapping between a surgical mask and an n95. We’ve worn gowns in every room, changed gloves over and over again, washed our hands nonstop. Our ears, nose, and hands are rubbed raw.
For 80 days, it’s been engrained into our brain. Wash your hands, put on a gown, gloves, mask, shield, strip your gloves, wash your hands, new gloves, enter room. Over and over and over again. Before you leave the room, strip your gown, pull gloves off with it. Ball it up so the COVID stays inside. Wash your hands. New gloves. Take off mask and face shield. Wipe down face shield. Put in the paper bag. Take off gloves. Wash hands again. Wipe down all equipment. Over and over and over again. For 80 days.
For 80 whole days, my patience and strength has been tried. I’ve been pushed to my limits. I’ve been family for patients who need us. I’ve been taught what it really means to be a nurse.
The country is beginning to reopen, but this is not over. It’s not going to end soon. Please, as you all go out and enjoy your summers, wear a mask. I know it’s a pain, but a surgical mask is better than a ventilator. Stay away from large gatherings as much as possible. Wash your hands. I promise, from the other end of things, the country reopening is scary. So give us some time, some patience, and some love. We really need it.
Your exhausted COVID 19 nurses
Avery Wrigley, RN, is a nurse at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. This essay was first published on June 13 on the GBMC website.