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My Privilege to Serve During the Pandemic

May 06, 2020

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It fills my heart and soul to be able to use my skills and training to assist others, even in the worst circumstances.

Kathy Van Dusen

On March 1, Kathy Van Dusen was deployed to Miramar Marine Base near San Diego for two weeks by the Department of Health and Human Services. Van Dusen is a certified emergency nurse (CEN), certified national healthcare disaster professional (NHDP-BC) and a reservist with the Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) CA 1. She is also a clinical practice specialist at AACN.

Her mission was to provide medical care for 250 passengers from Grand Princess – the cruise ship that experienced a COVID-19 outbreak on its way to dock in San Francisco. Maritime authorities held the ship offshore, and passengers were eventually transferred to military units, including Miramar, for quarantine.

Why did you say yes to working on a mission that posed so much risk to your own health?

Part of the reason I became a nurse was to be able to help those in need. It fills my heart and soul to be able to use my skills and training to assist others even in the worst circumstances. I really don't have any fear about the danger. I am careful to take the necessary precautions, and I have extensive training in PPE and donning and doffing, which gives me the confidence to know how to protect myself and others.

What did your mission entail?

With any DMAT mission you never really know where you will be assigned and what you will be doing. You have to be extremely flexible and willing to do just about anything.

I was assigned to the Consolidated Bachelors Quarters (QBC), which was a hotel on Miramar Marine Base. During the first three days, we received multiple flights per day with passengers from the Grand Princess. We housed 250 of the passengers at the QBC. I was the lead RN for the day shift.

Who made up the rest of your team?

My team consisted of another RN, two retired police officers and a forensic dentist. Basically, the five of us had to learn how to run a hotel, provide medical care, deliver three meals a day and provide for the basic needs of the passengers. We called them “guests,” so they would feel more comfortable during the duration of their time in quarantine.

What was a typical day like?

We worked between 12-19 hours each day in full personal protective equipment (PPE). The flights would come in as late as 1 a.m., and we would assist the passengers off the bus and to their assigned rooms.

Just like in a real hotel, we had to locate luggage, figure out where to find linens, and learn how to make room keys and fulfill repair requests. Meals were especially challenging – the catering company would bring the meals on a cart into the front lobby, and the five of us would hand-deliver them to 250 guests, in two buildings on four floors without elevators.

Besides having to figure out logistics, what other challenges did you face?

One of the hardest parts of the mission was managing the guests’ medications. The majority of them did not receive their luggage for more than a week after they arrived at the QBC. Most of their medications were in their luggage. On our first night, one of the guests, with a history of a kidney transplant, was without his antirejection medications. In the middle of the night we were able to get his medication filled so that he did not miss a single dose of those critical medications. With the help of a phenomenal pharmacist, we were able to quickly get everyone’s medications replaced.

How were your guests affected by COVID-19?

Most of our guests were elderly with comorbidities and at significant risk for contracting COVID-19. Their temperatures were checked twice a day and symptoms assessed. Any with fevers or symptoms prompted an assessment from our nurses and MD.

Three of our male guests tested positive for COVID-19 and were transferred to the hospital. They were on ventilators in critical condition and not expected to survive. Due to the visitor restrictions that all hospitals had in place, most of the guests weren’t able to go see their spouses. It took a lot of effort, but we were able to convince the hospital leadership to allow two of the wives to go into the unit to say “goodbye.”

How were you able to pass the time during the quarantine period?

Part of the mission was to make our guests’ experiences as enjoyable as possible. We created quite a bond with the passengers and were able to celebrate a honeymoon, a 47th wedding anniversary, birthdays, St. Patrick’s Day, the first day of spring and the Iranian New Year. We even arranged to help a father virtually walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding via a tablet since he could not be there in person.

It was my absolute privilege to serve during this pandemic.

What keeps you driven as a nurse during these challenging times?  Write to us by submitting your story at the bottom of our Your Stories page.