The Boss, and it's Urgent
My phone buzzed. It was a Friday night, but it was my boss, so I picked up.
“Beth, please, please, can you come in tomorrow to orient a group of California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Strike Force Nurses?”
“Who? What? Tomorrow...on Saturday?”
“Yes, it’s urgent. They need mask-fit testing and skills validation before we can send them to the floor. They’ll be flying in in the morning, and be escorted straight to Human Resources. Charlene in HR is coming in to do their ID badges. They’re only here for 72 hours, they’ll go straight to the floor from you, and then work Sunday, Monday and Tuesday”.
“That’s it? Seventy-two hours?” It sounded crazy to me, but we were in surge and desperate for nurses. Many of our own nurses were off sick themselves or working far too much overtime.
The CDPH Strike Force
CDPH had apparently reached out and contacted active and non-active CA nurses to recruit them to work short contracts during the pandemic. They were assured that they would be of help no matter what their background, and that they would be doing a great service in time of the pandemic.
Our hospital was in disaster staffing mode, and nurses were streaming in from all different agencies to be oriented and sent to the floors. My job was to make sure they were competent on our Alaris infusion pumps and glucometer machines, to validate their Restraint competencies, and make sure they could document in our platform, Cerner. It was basically a week's orientation compressed to one day.
Saturday morning I turned up early at 0730 to greet the new nurses. At 0800, a group of four nurses walked in. "Oh. My. Goodness.", I thought. This was a non-nurse-looking group if ever there was one.
Leading the pack was Hippy Harry. He walked in wearing a triangular red bandana on his deeply tanned and lined face, like a cowboy on a movie set. He wore a black T-shirt, khaki cargo shorts, leather sandals, and sported a puka shell necklace. Whenever he talked, his makeshift bandana slipped down off of his nose. I pointedly handed him a surgical mask and he reluctantly stuffed his red bandana into one of his pockets, donning the mask. I learned Hippy Harry had been volunteering in Africa and had not worked in a hospital in 15 years. I guessed Harry to be 73, but he volunteered that he was 68. He was warm and charming with twinkly blue eyes, and he struck me as quite the ladies man.
Next was Geriatric Barbie, a frail-looking, petite, retired school nurse in a pastel blue matching sweater set complete with a strand of pearls. She had bony hands with age spots and pink painted nails. Her manner was kind and gentle, and she really tried, but after several attempts, Barbie simply could not bar code scan the glucometer strips. Later, while I was teaching basic computer documentation, she needed 1:1 help with commands such as “right-click” and “re-size your window”.
Dapper Dan was a tall man with a chiseled face and artfully trimmed beard, looking as if he’d stepped right off of a GQ magazine cover. I could not mask-fit test him because of the beard and asked if he’d shave it. He stroked his jaw protectively “No way, my partner would kill me”.
‘OK, well, last I heard we were out of PAPRs but let me check again”.
“Thanks”, said Dan, “and, I’ll need some scrubs to change into. Size medium but medium/tall if you have them. The agency said you’d provide them”. Right. Let's see if I can get those from Surgery.
Next was Tattoo Tonya. In the computer room when I was standing over her is when I first noticed the tattoos on her scalp, in between her dyed-blonde cornrows. The tats were black and swirly, vaguely matching the ones on her arms. She had ear cuffs and a nose piercing. She picked up on everything super fast, and leaned in to help Barbie frequently. It didn’t take long before I saw past her colorful presentation and realized she was the star of the group.
She documented easily in Cerner and knew how to use the Alaris pump and NovaStat strip. I had no qualms sending her to ICU.
Nurse Beth Pulls it All Together
While they were busy on the computer, I started to make preceptor arrangements. I called the ICU Charge Nurse to find a preceptor for Hippy Harry. “Hi Ashley, I know you’re busy but I have a Strike Force nurse here who needs to be precepted from 1400-1930 today.”
“Beth, my preceptors are all so burned out <sigh>, I hate to ask them. Let me ask Lindsey...no, she already has someone with her. I’ll call you back”.
Later, Ashley called to say she had persuaded Stephanie to precept Harry. “Ashley, thank you so much! I appreciate it”.
Right about then, Harry approached me. “Beth, I know I’m hired for ICU- and I can do it, don’t get me wrong, but you know- it’s been a while. I think I’d be more comfortable in ED”. He smiled charmingly and all I could say was, “Let me call ED and see what I can do”. After all, they were volunteers, right?
Monday morning Harry walked into my office, hospital-issued scrubs neatly folded and badge in extended hand. “I’ve realized this just isn’t going to work out. I worked a half shift in ED and things have changed too much. I'm too far behind. I’m sorry to have taken up your time.” I smiled ruefully. It had truly been my pleasure to meet Harry and the whole group. Perhaps Harry was a romantic, responding to the plea for help, and seeking an adventure. I wished him the best.
Later, I talked with Karen, the ICU educator. She said Barbie was not assigned patients but kept herself busy by going around patting patient’s hands and smoothing their covers. She was going to work one more shift. Tonya was a superstar as predicted and they were trying to recruit her to stay longer. A PAPR was found for Dan but it was discovered he did not pass his Basic Arrhythmia exam and he had to be pulled from the floor.
Then she confided a bit of gossip. Apparently Harry and Barbie had spent quite a bit of time together in the hotel. Actually, the term “hooked-up” was used. Maybe Harry found his romance and adventure, after all.