Dr. Kathryn Stevenson's Class
Dr. Stevenson is an Associate Professor of English at Moreno Valley College. She first participated in the oral history project during the 2019-2020 academic year.
"Small things like that helps so much to help us get through the shift"
Interviewed by Juliana/ 2020
In this oral history, I interview an essential worker and how COVID-19 has affected their life. Guiding question for this narrative: how has COVID-19 affected essential workers and their view towards working?
I work in an ICU at a local medical center. I have two young children. I originally wanted to be a registered nurse. When I was a child I was always interested in the human body and always interested in illnesses. When I was growing up, I convinced myself I had some deadly disease and would research different kinds of diseases that I thought I had. I've always been drawn to medicine. I’ve been in nursing for about seven years. For six years I was in a medical surgical unit who were pretty stable patients, surgical patients such as appendix removals and would have ruling out strokes and more. Then I took an ICU position a few months ago and have been there since.
We started seeing COVID patients about a month and a half ago. We definitely saw more COVID patients on the media and what everyone else was watching around the world as far as China, Italy, and quite some time Los Angeles County, then eventually started seeing patients at our sister hospitals. We were about the last one to be hit with COVID patients….
Personal protective equipment or PPE has been a hot topic in the media since the beginning of this pandemic, the Center of Disease Control or CDC states that COVID-19 should be treated as airborne precautions. … So anyone entering the patient's room is required to wear a N95 respirator, an isolation gown, and gloves. This PPE typically should be used one time per entry in the patient's room and should be discarded when leaving the patient's room. This has always been the case according to CDC recommendations and manufacturer's guidelines. However, during this pandemic it became very apparent that the hospitals lacked personal protective equipment, because the CDC relaxed its guidelines and stated, “Surgical masks and even cloth masks were sufficient,” simply because there's not enough N95 respirators to go round. This caused havoc in lot of hospitals because we have been led to believe that we should be very careful in trying not to spread an infectious disease, such as what we have on our hands like COVID. Now, because we are so short on PPE we have been told that we can reuse our N95 respirators. In fact many hospitals are getting super creative. One of those hospitals happens to be the one I work for. They are actually having us turn in our N95 mask, which we use one for our whole entire shift, in a paper bag with our name, employee number, and department. It then gets sterilized with UV lighting and then returned back to us on our next shift to reuse again, then we do that one more time, which totals three shifts that we are using the same N95 mask. When in the past it was a one-time use for just entering the patient's room and then throwing it away. This causes a lot of concerns for us in the health care field because we are just reusing a possibly contaminated N95 mask.
Due to these concerns, we do see health care workers protesting or not calling into work, but at my hospital we have not seen this. Nurses and people in healthcare feel a strong obligation to take care of patients even at the cost of possibly falling ill themselves. I feel that the first priority is taking care of their patients and not just that, but taking care of their team because when we are not there because people are calling out, we are working short staffed and that is affecting our coworkers. Of course, from my hospital I have heard a lot of complaints, panic, concern with the situation, but haven’t seen myself people calling out and not returning from work. I have seen protests and what not on the news and I can’t say I completely disagree with those decisions, I can understand where health care providers are coming from.
The media has played a large part in the pandemic, my personal opinion in regards to coverage on the pandemic I think it is too much on the media. I feel that the numbers they are stating are more driven towards mentioning fatality. They don’t mention how many people have recovered and how many people that could possibly have it and I feel the numbers of actual infected people are a lot higher and fatality rate is much lower. I think that the general public only has the ability to only see what is on social media and news which makes them fearful. When you work in a hospital setting and see what is going on and sick patients and them getting better which leads them to being downgraded to a more stable floor and go home, it puts the disease into more perspective. Due to this I have definitely been less fearful the last few weeks of the pandemic. Going into it pandemic I thought I was going to have to stay in another place and not live with my family for the time being because I was worried about infecting them. I thought I was going to have to wear a mask at home, but I just feel it is not to that extent. I am worried about it. I feel young and healthy along with my family, there is no one immunocompromised in my home, I don’t have diabetes, so I feel we are not at great risk. Will I continue to be safe when attending work and use all the PPE that is provided to me? Yes, absolutely.
Due to this virus, it has definitely altered my life and perspective. For me personally I have been trying more to take care of myself. I am trying to destress in a healthier way, whether that be going on walks, going on a hike, going on a jog. It just helps me clear my mind and get out any frustration I am feeling. I have also been loading up on vitamins and multivitamins; zinc, vitamin D and vitamin C, I have been taking those religiously to strengthen my immune system. I have also been thinking more about what I eat and drink, just trying to be as healthy as possible so I can show up a hundred percent at work.
Lots of health care workers' mindsets have changed about going to work and their drive to work, but mine has been the same. I have been listening to things that will uplift my attitude such as a positive podcast or audio book. Things like this help me put things into perspective and make me aware of gratitude and what I have in my life. Reminding me of what I am grateful for helps me focus on my intentions for the day. As soon as I hit the parking lot, I like to say a quick prayer to protect me, my family, my partners, and patients. Regardless of this pandemic, I still love my job and working. I love my job due to the impact I have on patients and patient’s family members. Right now it is harder, usually we have family members come see the patient and update them, interact with their loved one. Now with COVID, patients can’t meet with loved ones, so you can imagine how difficult that is not just for families, but for the nurses, we have to find a way to get families involved and up to date. That means Facetiming, that means moving patients close to the window so that way families can see them from the outside, that means talking to them on the phone a lot longer than we would. We have to get really creative--we have patients who are on a ventilator who can’t speak for themselves, even just putting their loved one on the phone to hear their voice gives the patient some kind of peace of mind. So us nurses doing that gives my job way more importance because the families really depend on us to update them and also show them that their family member is not alone, even though we don’t know them, we are there holding their hand. It is so much more important to me the difference I am making.
Through this time, it is hard for us health professionals, but the community has done such a great job to uplift hospitals. This involvement has brought out a lot of positivity to us health care workers. The last few weeks I can’t even think of a day that someone didn’t provide lunch for the medical workers. Small things like that helps so much to help us get through the shift.
The pandemic has definitely altered and affected my life, but I know we can get through it and just be cautious, but also don’t live your life in fear. Be aware of those and possibly infecting people that have underlying issues and are more at risk, don’t be ignorant because you are young. In time things will get back to normal, but be patient.
This interview has been edited for clarity and to protect the narrator’s privacy.