As a veteran pediatric intensive care nurse, I have been exposed to just about every bacteria and virus known to man. For the last 15 years, I have been caring for critically ill children in the hospital who suffer from acute and chronic illnesses, pre- and post-operative cardiac surgery patients born with severe heart defects, trauma patients who’ve nearly drowned or been hit by cars, asthmatics, oncology patients, cystic fibrosis patients and a myriad of other patients with infectious and non-infectious diseases. Never, in my 15 years, have I seen anything like the global pandemic that is happening today.
Eryn was hospitalized more than 50 times in her 18 years, she had 16 back surgeries and she required a ventilator to live and a feeding tube for nutrition. As the mother of a child with a chronic illness, I chose to become a nurse to give back to families like mine who are caught in the rollercoaster ride of the PICU. Who better to serve patients and parents living the PICU life than a mom who has lived it too? Translating doctor speak, holding patients and parents while they cry after receiving a life altering diagnosis, and sometimes helping the sickest patients transition to the afterlife as pain free and with as much peace and dignity as possible are just some of my duties as a PICU nurse.
Who better to serve patients and parents living the PICU life than a mom who has lived it too? While yes, sometimes these children and families remind me of what I’ve lost (my sweet girl lost her battle in October, 2019), I chose to serve these families and children and put my own feelings on the back burner. Almost all nurses chose this profession to do the same. We put our own safety, feelings, problems, and health concerns aside to provide care for the sick, the dying, the healthy and everyone in between.
The emergence of COVID-19 has us scared. We know that we will all put our patients first and ourselves last because it is what we DO. The lack of preparedness for this pandemic makes us not think first of ourselves due to lack of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) but it makes us think of what we are exposing others to due to the shortage of PPE. From one patient’s room to the next patient’s room we could infect someone. Taking the rapidly spreading virus home to our families, our children, our parents or our grandparents is a very real probability. It is for them that we are frightened. We’ve been exposed to many, many things and we hopefully have immune systems of steel but again, it’s not about us.
If I still had Eryn at home with me, as medically fragile and susceptible to disease as she was, I would be even more scared. She breathed through a hole in her neck. How easy it would’ve been for this virus to attack her respiratory system? There was no barrier between her lungs and the virus living on my scrubs that I wear home after working.
BE PREPARED AND THOUGHTFUL!
While at work, we take every precaution to maintain hand hygiene, wear gowns and masks when exposed to a transmissible disease. In public, we don’t have those luxuries. People who’ve been exposed rarely even know that they are shedding the virus, any virus, for several days after exposure. This particular virus is so communicable, so virulent, any of us could be transmitting it for days before we even show symptoms. We hear on the news, “Wash your hands!” “Don’t touch your face!” But what about the cart at the grocery store? The bag of chips someone picked up then decided not to buy and put back on the shelf. The burger at the drive- thru that was made by a guy wearing the same disposable gloves for the last hour who touched the counter, the money, his face…
I know that it is impossible to lock-down the entire country for weeks at a time. This is why social distancing is being preached and should be practiced. Go out in public only when necessary and try to cluster your outings into a short period of time. For instance, go to the grocery store, fill your gas tank and buy your pet food all in the same trip as opposed to going three separate times. Don’t touch what you don’t intend to buy and keep hand sanitizer with you at all times. Don’t touch ATM buttons, cash, elevator buttons or handrails unless absolutely necessary. Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between you and other shoppers. Cough and sneeze into your elbow instead of your hands or the air and for the sake of those of us on the front lines who have to be exposed to this illness, stay home if you are feeling even the slightest bit sick.
I do believe that fresh air and sunshine are a must for our physical and mental health. Go out into your yard and do some spring yard work. Weed your garden, mow your lawn or just sit outside in a chair and soak up the fresh spring air. You can take a walk in the park alone or with your immediate family or pet, or just a walk through your neighborhood. Don’t invite friends who don’t live with you along, don’t stop and chat with your neighbors and don’t go where there are a lot of other people. Take the time to see the beauty in our world, smell the spring freshness and listen to the harmonious sounds of nature.
Please, because I and the hundreds of thousands of medical professionals throughout our country HAVE to go to work, to stand on the front lines and put our loved ones at risk every time we walk into work, do your part to help us help others. We are frightened every day that we will expose our patients and our loved ones to this virus because we were called to serve. Please help us by staying home, enjoying nature, and reducing exposure and transmission.
Sherrie Bruce, RN