By now, everyone has heard of COVID-19, also know as the coronavirus, which is an infectious disease caused by a new virus.
The disease causes respiratory illness (like the flu) with symptoms such as a cough, fever, and in more severe cases, difficulty breathing.
New York is the epicenter of the American coronavirus outbreak, according to cnn.com, with almost ten-times more cases than any other state, as of Thursday, March 26.
Heather Angus, a 1996 graduate of Ravenswood High School who now lives in New York, is currently working on the front lines of COVID-19 in a hospital in Manhattan.
As a nurse anesthetist, Angus is used to caring for patients as they prepare for surgery. However, her recent duties can only be described as something from a Stephen King horror film.
“Healthcare workers for the most part know their role,” Angus said. “We all get disaster training on what to do when they happen and how to manage patients, but this is a different kind of disaster. You don’t know when it’s going to end, it’s nothing you can see.”
Angus said as a nurse, she is trained to care for patients, but with COVID-19, she said they don’t know how to treat it or who even has the virus.
“It’s an uneasy feeling, you want to provide care, but you’re not sure who needs it and you don’t have all the testing to know who does have it, and you don’t even know if you have it,” Angus said.
According to Angus, the hospitals are now trying to play catch up because the president waited too long to acknowledge the virus in the United States. She feels he continues to spread false information that is confusing people.
“You almost feel like you’re stuck,” Angus said. “You go to work, you’re doing your best, you don’t have the supplies you need, people are being fed misinformation that we have a tremendous amount of testing when we can’t even test our own workers.”
Angus said she has a friend, who is also a nurse anesthetist, that was sent home with COVID-19 symptoms.
“She has been on quarantine for seven days and they want to have her come back to work, but they won’t give her a test to make sure she is negative,” Angus said. “That’s how bad it has gotten.”
According to Angus, in the beginning, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the AANA (American Association of Nurse Anesthetists) stated that the nurses needed a N95 mask for any contact with patients; however, the guidelines keep changing.
“As the N95 masks became unavailable, the guidelines kept changing to the point where the CDC said we could go to work with a bandana, which is sort of insulting,” Angus said.
A training was recently held for the healthcare workers on how to put on the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to care for the critically ill patients.
“When I went to the floor to get my training on how to put on and take off our protective equipment, I saw some of the patients, and it is so sad,” Angus said. “It’s so sad because these patients had contracted the coronavirus somehow and now their away from their families and friends and are not allowed to have a visitor.”
Angus said the nurses are instructed to limit their time with each patient and write the time down when they go in and out of the rooms. She said they are also limited on how many times per shift that they can check on a patient.
“These patients, I feel like are just dying alone,” Angus said. “As a nurse you want to go in and you want to comfort people and you want to comfort the family; you want to comfort the people feeling this pain, but you can’t.”
As healthcare workers they are not able to provide the patient support they normally provide because they can’t get sick, according to Angus. She said that if the workers get sick, there is no one to replace them.
When it comes to PPE, Angus said they are required to wear an N95 mask, a face shield, gloves, and a protective gown. She said they only receive one mask and one face shield per day. The face shields are cleaned off with clorox wipes as needed.
“The thing about the N95 masks, we are using them all day long, but in the past we used them as a one-time use,” Angus said. “Having one for each patient interaction would make me feel safer, but that is not an option right now.”
When asked what the public can do to help the situation, Angus said that a simple prayer, or a card to show appreciation to a healthcare worker goes a long way. Sending a Facebook message or a text with words of encouragement and support is very helpful. She suggests being kind and helping others with groceries or checking on them is a great way to show you care.
“My dog, her doggy daycare has shut down and people in my building have stepped up and are helping me with my dog when I go to the hospital,” Angus said.
She feels those little acts of kindness can mean so much in this time of pandemic.
According to Angus, as a healthcare provider at the hospital they are there with their whole healthcare family, but when they go home they can feel isolated.
“There’s a lot you take home with you that makes it hard to go home and relax,” Angus said. “But getting words of encouragement and gratitude from family and friends is very helpful.”
Angus said she is thankful for people and companies who have stepped up and sent supplies. She also said they appreciate the cloth masks that people are sending, but face shields are of greater need at this time.
When it comes to the idea of opening the country back up by Easter, Angus said it makes her “cringe” at the thought. She feels we are no where near the end of this pandemic.
Angus spent four years traveling with a surgical group to countries such as El Salvador, Ecuador, Peru, Guatemala, and Lebanon and said, “I cannot believe this is happening in our country, it’s just mind-blowing.”