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“We had never seen anything like this, and the lack of experience made me question myself every day.”

A black and white image of a woman wearing a face mask.
By Joan Rosegreen

Brooklyn, NY
United States

I am an emergency department (ED) nurse and the representative for all the unionized nurses in my facility. Four weeks ago, when the governor announced that my facility was the designated COVID-19 hospital for my city, words cannot express how appalled we were. Everyone wanted to know why another hospital wasn’t chosen.

As the days went by, it was clear that the population we serve needed us. One day I had 12 patients. There were so many patients in the ED that I feared I was going to make several mistakes. I had a headache every day; having to take care of 10–12 patients daily created a fear of the unknown. It was evident the uncertainty was becoming a daily routine and the new normal.

None of the staff really understood how serious the virus was, and we had no idea how traumatized our staff would be. We had never seen anything like this, and the lack of experience made me question myself every day when I had to interact with the patients and my coworkers.

My world turned upside down on March 19. I arrived at the ED at 7 AM, took my assignment, and started my daily routine. During my 2 PM lunch break, while sitting with my colleagues, I suddenly felt nauseous and weak. I was triaged and had spiked a fever. I refused to be admitted.

I was tested for COVID-19 and the next three weeks were agonizing. For three weeks, no one could find my test results, so I sat in limbo and waited. Learning my results were negative was a sigh of relief, but I was saddened to learn that many of my coworkers tested positive and haven’t been able to return to work because of the effect the virus has had on them.

One of our beloved and best doctors who saved many lives died of COVID-19; there was nothing we could do to save him. We are all having a difficult time coming to terms with his death, which hit us all like a ton of bricks.

In the midst of all this turmoil, there is still hope. I was overjoyed when I visited one of my patients who was intubated for more than three weeks and found her extubated, sitting up in bed on oxygen and eating. I had prayed with her two days earlier, so I was beyond myself with disbelief when I saw her off the ventilator and smiling. Her eyes were tearful with joy as she reached for me to hug her, but sadly I could not. Instead, I put on my personal protective equipment, went in her cubicle, and squeezed her hands. That gave me the assurance that there was still hope during this dark period. She was able to return to her family and celebrate the gift of her life.

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