Being a Healthcare Worker During the Coronavirus   


Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, hospitals all around the world have been overflowing with patients. My mother is one of many healthcare workers who has been putting their lives on the line everyday. Previously working on a mother/baby unit as the assistant head nurse, in a hospital here in Queens, my mom’s floor, along with many others, had been turned into a COVID floor.

During the first two weeks after my mom’s floor was transformed, I saw the look of defeat on her face when she came home from work. She looked tired and overworked. She would run straight to the shower and I couldn’t even hug and kiss her like I usually did when she came home. It genuinely hurt me to see my mother cry as she ate her dinner and didn’t want to talk about what she was seeing in the hospital.  She asked me not to publish her name in fear of getting into trouble at work. 

“Before, we were seeing the birth of babies and now we’re seeing the death of people,” she said. “Our unit was probably the happiest unit, the mother/ baby floor was filled with smiles and new life. We always saw happy mothers and family members with each birth, and then seeing the patients with COVID, who are gasping for air, crying, suffering, dying.” 

“We’ve never seen this much death before in our unit. All we were seeing now are scared patients begging for help, people who were scared they’re going to die alone. Of course we try to comfort them and want to be there for them, but the longer you stay in their rooms, the more exposed you are.”

As we know, the coronavirus is highly contagious. This means that family members are not allowed in hospitals to see their loved ones and be there for them as they fight the illness. Most patients rely on hospital staff for physical and emotional support during this difficult time.

“In these conditions, it is hard knowing that you’re there for your patients but you’re not really there,” she said. “You’re there to take care of them but you want to do more and stay to comfort them, since they don’t have family with them, but we couldn’t do that.”

“It was like one minute the patient is fine and having a conversation with you and the next minute they just are gasping for air and can’t breathe. Or when you go home and come back the next morning and you find out your patient didn’t make it overnight. Some patients were even fighting the oxygen tubes and pulling everything out, they just wanted to give up.”

Healthcare staff and supply shortages have been an issue in hospitals during the pandemic. With many nurses and doctors sick themselves and not able to work, the responsibility of the limited staff increases. Although the hospital tries to provide help by hiring auxiliary staff and per diem nurses, this is not enough because they lack experience in managing critical patients in the hospital.  

“Most of the time we had 4 nurses for 28 patients, so each nurse was assigned 7 or 8 critical patients for the 12 hours,” she said. “Since I’m in charge, it was difficult because when we had a rapid response or a code, I had to run and manage it and participate in those codes. But we did have med-surg nurses and doctors helping us run the codes because as an OB nurse, we didn’t have codes on the mother/ baby unit.” 

“It was overwhelming for us in the beginning, but everyday we would come to work and do the same thing. We got stronger and gained experience and got more confident in what we were doing. It was different from what we were used to, but we learned a lot.”

With staff shortages, nurses and doctors have to closely monitor their patients, especially if they’re critical. My mother’s previous one hour break turned into a three minute break. 

“I took 2-3 minute breaks every couple of hours to just drink some water or eat something like a banana or yogurt quickly or even to run to the bathroom,” she said.  “Taking a full 1 hour break was just impossible because you can’t leave your 7 critical patients with another nurse who already has just as many critical patients of their own, it just wasn’t fair.”

“We were always going from one patient to another because it’s like if one patient is coding, and we do rapid response to save the patient, a different patient starts coding a couple minutes after. We were always on our toes and preparing for anything to be able to properly respond to our patients’ needs. We forgot we have our own needs as well, even if it’s something as little as drinking water.”

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is necessary to secure the well being of the healthcare workers themselves. Lack of this equipment made it even more risky to go to work and come home to family. 

“We wore a N-95 mask, a surgical mask on top, a surgical gown and a plastic gown over it, a face shield and gloves,” she said. “We had to use it, sanitize it and then reuse it. It wasn’t proper protective equipment at all. PPE needed to be changed when you go from one patient to another, but we were wearing the same thing for the full 12 hour shift because we didn’t have enough.” 

“The worst part was keeping distance from my family when I came home because I was scared of getting them sick. I didn’t hug or kiss them when I came home, I was afraid to get too close. I even used different plates and utensils when I ate food.”

In the past two months, I learned how strong my mom really is. I watched her pick herself up after being shot down by the amount of death she has been surrounded with. I watched her gain hope as the weeks went by and she managed to get through impossible situations. I want to thank all of the healthcare and essential workers who continue to put other people’s needs before their own. I clap for all of you at 7 pm, every evening with my family. I want to leave this on a positive note… we’re all in this together. 

“Our names are at the top of our face shields, but you wouldn’t think our patients would pay attention to that because they’re so sick,” my mom said. “The happiest thing was when some of the patients were able to recover. Before they were discharged, they held my hand and cried and told me ‘thank you, for everything you did.’” 

“They knew my name and who I was. They appreciated what we did for them and that we were there for them the whole way, and that made me so happy.”