Nothing could have prepared me for working during a pandemic.
Who would have thought that this could happen to us in the world we live in?
The changes it has brought affects so many things we have taken for granted.
The change in nursing and the attitudes associated with it are mind-boggling — not only for my colleagues, but the patients we take care of, their families, and of course mine as well.
I work in critical care as a travel nurse, where I move around the country to hospitals needing support.
As you can guess, there are many in need while this pandemic wreaks havoc around the country.
Nurses are leaving the profession in droves for a multitude of reasons.
Higher pay elsewhere, long hours, high er acuity of the patients, staff-to-patient ratios being doubled, general dissatisfaction of hospital management.
The list is endless.
I was working in Arizona when the pandemic started, and it was heartbreaking to see the patients coming into the hospital in carloads, many of them not leaving or being transferred out to a larger facility.
They couldn’t have family to visit and often didn’t know where their other family members were.
I had to call several different hospitals one shift to find my patient’s brother, and when I eventually found where he was, I had to give my patient the sad news his brother didn’t make it.
I find it amazing the people of the US, and I’m sure some of these attitudes are reflected in other countries, have such differing views on this pandemic.
As a nurse, I’m amazed at the number of people who haven’t been vaccinated.
What’s more shocking are the reasons they refuse to do it.
There was a patient who didn’t like the political controversy surrounding the vaccine.
Fortunately, he survived but will have a long road to recovery.
Then, there was one who didn’t want to put anything he didn’t know into his body.
This patient tested positive for methamphetamine and cocaine.
Another patient self-medicated with ivermectin.
Unsurprisingly, the outcome wasn’t great for him, either.
As I say these things, it sounds like I don’t care.
In fact I care so much it hurts.
Such senseless death.
The sickest of these patients on ventilators often need to be proned (turning them onto their stomach) and then ‘‘swimming’’ them — changing the position of their arms and legs — every two hours.
The initial proning takes five or six people and the swimming takes at least four.
These patients are heavily sedated and usually chemically paralysed so we can lessen their work of breathing.
Emotionally it’s tough.
These patients cannot have visitors.
The only people they see are the nurses and other caregivers able to enter the room.
Families can only see them if they’re actively dying.
Families call frequently for updates, often questioning the treatments and making demands we give medications they’ve read about on the internet.
That’s so frustrating as we’re always doing what we can to take care of their loved ones, but to them, often, it’s not enough.
Physically taking care of these patients is just plain hard work.
The putting on and taking off all the protective equipment is so time-consuming.
There are the masks we wear 12 hours a day, and then switch for N-95 masks or personal respirators, gowns, gloves, face shields, and hair coverings when we enter a patient’s room, hoping when you get in there you haven’t forgotten something important.
Then removing it all when you leave.
It’s not the most comfortable thing having to wear a face mask for 12 hours each shift, only removing them to eat, drink, or have a bathroom break.
It’s also strange to see your co-workers without their masks, having only seen their eyes for most of the shift.
I work with these people for 12 hours and if not for their voices I’d never recognise them.
In all of this, the most important thing I can say is, please get vaccinated.
It may not stop you from getting Covid, but it certainly will limit the symptoms and hopefully keep you out of the hospitals.
Have your booster as soon as you can, maintain social distancing where appropriate, wear your mask wherever it’s required, and please wear it properly.
I managed to make it through 23 months without getting Covid but it got hold of me just in time for new year.
It was a social transmission and fortunately I was only slightly unwell and recovered quickly, with no lasting effects.
I thank the vaccination and booster for that.
I’m so proud of the way that New Zealand has managed this crisis.
It’s because you all listened to the experts and made simple choices to work together as a team.
I wish that had happened over here.
Sandi Eathorne, nee Bennetts, grew up in Queenstown and is currently a critical care
travel nurse on the frontline of the Covid response in her adopted country, the United States, where she’s lived since 1991