I had that moment of: Don’t breathe. I need to take my mask off. It’s contaminated.
Hospital hallways are my track and I’m not even a runner. But, I joke, it’s the only way I’ll ever get any exercise working 12 hour shifts. I’m what they call a Rapid Response nurse. And it’s just like it sounds. The faster I get somewhere, the more chance the person who’s in trouble has to live. I can provide my expertise to my colleagues with a deteriorating patient. Time is brain cells. I’m no track star, but I love my work and I love my patients. So I run.
Before COVID-19, the only thing in my way were people looking down in the hallways.
Now? I can’t run.
I have to put on a mask and shield. I have to put on a gown. I have to put on gloves...double gloves. I'm forced to slow down. It feels like slow motion, now. I have to take my time to protect myself, my coworkers, and my family.
When the census was climbing and we were reaching capacity in the ICU, the Rapid Response role changed from me to other deployed staff, I had a different sense of panic. Instead of running to the patient, now a patient was coming down to me, and we had to be dressed in PPE and be ready to stabilize them.
In the beginning of COVID-19, I had one patient who only spoke Vietnemese. She was adamant about getting out of the bed - she had to get up. I was trying to get her out of bed, but she was a little shorter than me. When she started to reach up and grab on to me, my PPE started coming off. I felt my mask slipping. Fear started to set in, and I could feel myself breathing faster and anxiety building. I grabbed hold of my helmet and mask with one hand, while holding her with the other so she wouldn’t fall. I was afraid that I was exposed and I had just contaminated myself. I had that moment of: Don’t breathe, I need to take my mask off, I am contaminated.
When I got out of there, I ripped my mask off. I don't have panic attacks. I've never had a panic attack. But I thought that I was having one in that moment. It was intense.... I just needed fresh air. My husband was a Marine with several tours overseas. He guarded Afghanistan’s President Karzai during election time. I wonder if he ever felt the fear of the unknown around the corner. I wonder if it’s like what I’m feeling now.
After completing a day’s work, it was hard to turn things off. There was this constant state of emergency, wondering what was next? I didn't know how to feel at home, how to slow down and stop running. It gives me a greater understanding of what it would feel like to be in battle or war, and how one turns it off.
I do what I can to help my patients. And I wear the gear to keep me and my family safe. But, boy, I can’t wait to run again.
Julie Hess, Supervisor RN, Operations Coodinator