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To be a coward, or to be a fool?

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MsJenn_The_RN has 2 years experience and specializes in Critical Care (MICU).

1 Article; 419 Profile Views; 16 Posts

I don't know which is right, leaving or staying.

A first-hand account of the struggles facing this ICU nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic

To be a coward, or to be a fool?
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My Dream Job as a New ICU Nurse

I have always known that I was meant to be an ICU nurse. Call it intuition, divine planning, or blind ambition. Since I was a child, my dream was to heal the sick, to protect those too weak to protect themselves, and to nurture those in their most vulnerable states.

From the moment I enrolled in nursing school, I knew that the ICU was the place I would call my home. No other fields ever interested me; I wanted to care for the "sickest of the sick." Every decision I made in school and during my first year as a nurse, came from an unshakeable need to land a position in the ICU. After pushing myself to the brink of insanity to keep the highest GPA in my graduating class, accepting a new-graduate position on a medical stepdown-ICU, and putting in countless hours of overtime and continuing critical care education, every sacrifice I had made up to that point paid off. I landed my dream job: a position as a Medical-ICU nurse. I had never in my life felt the sense of purpose, belonging, or fulfillment that I felt as I navigated my way through the first few weeks and fell into a rhythm on my new floor.

Unprepared and Unprotected

It's surreal to me, that this was only a few months ago, in November of 2019, when I felt so elated. In a month that has felt like a decade, my life as an ICU nurse has come to include only 2 realities: walking unprepared and unprotected into a warzone of death and isolation, and hiding in my home, for fear of infecting those I love the most with the very disease I'm fighting so hard against (COVID-19). Where I once felt excitement and purpose, I now feel hopelessness and defeat. I spend my waking hours trying to decide if it's better to be the coward who deserts her comrades on the battlefield, or the hard-headed, idealistic fool who goes down with a sinking ship in the name of duty. As the US assumes the title of "new COVID-19 Epicenter," I can't see a third, "preferable" choice for myself.

By now, the internet is flooded with nurses' testimonials, showing photos and videos of the unbelievable lack of resources and protection we have as we care for an escalating number of COVID patients. In one week, my hospital went from having 2 COVID quarantine units, to 6, with even more projected to be converted. My floor itself is not a designated unit, but each of us is sent to the critical COVID unit, at least once a week. This upcoming week will be my third week in a row using the same N95 mask; I was lucky enough to get a new face shield last week, as mine was so beat-up that it finally broke. Last week, my mask didn't even fit to my face, because the elastic straps are so thinly stretched. I have been praying that it lasts me through another shift, because we're just about out. Someone stole almost all the boxes of masks.

Skepticism and Mistrust

In the blink of an eye, my naivety has been replaced by skepticism and outright mistrust; I cannot believe for a second that the measures we as nurses are being forced to take while we care for infected patients, are remotely safe. We aren't protected; we know we aren't protected; we're offended and resentful over being told that we are protected. ICU nurses are quick thinkers. We know that what we're being told about our protective equipment is a desperate quality control measure, designed to prevent a panic.

Unexpected and Unprotected Exposure

I had to get tested last week, as well. Our whole floor got exposed, unknowingly, for a solid 6-8 hours. ICU is all about priorities, right? A patient comes in for a cardiac arrest, we're working on keeping him/her alive, and dealing with extraneous issues later. When a patient is crashing, we're also all in the room, helping each other out, working as a single well-oiled machine. Unfortunately for us, after an admission was sent up from the ED without being tested, we learned that this particular patient was from a "hot spot" county, and had been presenting with all the cardinal COVID symptoms for the past week.

I can't explain how it felt to hear my child sob when I told him that I couldn't pick him up for a few more days, because I might have the virus that was making everyone so sick, and I couldn't get close to him until I found out for sure. I felt unspeakable shame, like the most selfish human on the planet, for being so devoted to my "dream job." I sat all alone at my house for 4 days, crying and hating myself for becoming a nurse, until the test came back negative.

Fear and Guilt

Even after my negative test, I still feel the same nauseating fear and guilt, every waking moment. I can't sleep, and the few hours of sleep I have gotten, have been plagued by pandemic nightmares. The fear follows me everywhere I go, sometimes nagging in the back of my mind, sometimes churning in my gut. It's the same questions, every time: "How long before I'm infected? How do I tell my kid that I won't be coming home for a while, and he can't see me, because I'm so sick that it isn't safe? What if I pass it to my dad, who has been the only person I've allowed to keep my kid since this whole thing started? What if he, the man who devoted his whole life to raising, supporting, and protecting me, spends the last days of his life on a ventilator, alone, with no one to hold his hand and pray with him...because of me?" At these times, it seems impossible to set foot back in my hospital.

Then, I think about my patients. These patients are living my worst fears. They're unable to be at home with their loved ones, for weeks. If they're sick enough, they can't even talk to their families, because they won't last without a mask...or a tube. They're fighting for their lives, while we have to update their grief-stricken families over the phone, and tell them that they can't visit and be with them at their most critical hour. For these patients, we nurses are the only human contact they get. For the ones who inevitably will not survive, our voices are the last that they hear. Our hands are the last that touch them. Our prayers may be the last said for them, and our tears may be the last shed for them before they leave this world. When I think about the horror these patients and their families are facing, I can't imagine not showing up for my next shift.

No Answers - No Happy Ending

As much as I'd like to believe the hopeful messages that this pandemic will soon pass and our society will again be safe and free, I don't see it. With everything in me, I don't see it. Never in a lifetime would I have guessed when I became a nurse, that it would mean putting my own life and the lives of those who I love the most at risk, to save the lives of others. I have asked seasoned nurses for an answer, and the answer I've come to is that there's no answer. There's no happy ending. Those of us who have chosen to walk away, have done their best; those of us who have stayed, are doing our best. Unfortunately, right now, the best we can do is nowhere close to enough to protect ourselves and those around us.

For the time being, I will keep fighting the outward battle at the hospital against the pandemic for my patients. All the while, I'll keep silently fighting my own internal battle, until I figure out if it's better for me to be a coward and leave, or to be a fool and stay.

This author is a MICU nurse in the southeastern United States, an aspiring CRNA, and a loving mother, wife, daughter, and sister.

1 Article; 419 Profile Views; 16 Posts

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anonymous-phn-rn has 30 years experience as a BSN and specializes in Respiratory-Sub-Acute.

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You know unfortunately our government did not protect us as they should have; but being a Nurse means that you may have to put your life on the line to save others. I was a Disaster Nurse for DMATCA4 and DMATCA6 for seven years for NDMS; HOME LAND SECURITY after 911. Taking care of people with unknown disorders or going into Austere environments is what nurses do. I do feel for you though , we should have the appropriate equipment to keep us as safe as possible for the circumstances we are working. It doesn't make you a coward to expect to have the appropriate PPE. Our Govt. dismantled the pandemic task force in 2018. That is why our response is so poor. Take care of your self and your family. if you don't take care of your self; you can't take care of others. Jeffrey J. Keely,BSN,PHN,RN. CA

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31 Posts; 471 Profile Views

12 minutes ago, Jeffrey James Keely said:

You know unfortunately our government did not protect us as they should have; but being a Nurse means that you may have to put your life on the line to save others. I was a Disaster Nurse for DMATCA4 and DMATCA6 for seven years for NDMS; HOME LAND SECURITY after 911. Taking care of people with unknown disorders or going into Austere environments is what nurses do. I do feel for you though , we should have the appropriate equipment to keep us as safe as possible for the circumstances we are working. It doesn't make you a coward to expect to have the appropriate PPE. Our Govt. dismantled the pandemic task force in 2018. That is why our response is so poor. Take care of your self and your family. if you don't take care of your self; you can't take care of others. Jeffrey J. Keely,BSN,PHN,RN. CA

It's what they do if they sign up for that line of work. As everyone is always touting on here, there are many avenues in nursing, many of which DO NOT necessitate putting oneself in direct harm's way or risking one's life because of poor planning on behalf of one's employer.

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21 Posts; 629 Profile Views

I have no intention of putting my life on the line to save others. Especially when the risk to my life is due to poor planning and greed by those In hospital boardrooms. I didn’t sign up to go to a war torn country or work on an aircraft carrier. I got a job in my local hospital, who agreed to keep me safe by providing all ppe as required by osha.

This same hospital that expects so much sacrifice from me is the same one who puts ‘points’ on me for such infractions as being one minute late and forgetting my badge. Points lead to reprimands from managers and dismissals. They are the same ones who treat nurses like they are narc fiends and write us up if we don’t give a narc within one hour of pulling it. But these same petty bastards want me to risk my life and my children’s lives?

When anyone starts waving flags and playing on emotions, making nurses feel guilty, I always remind them this is a job. The same job that will reprimand and fire you for any number of inconsequential things. If you die they will just hire another nurse. The guy that runs your hospital doesn’t even know your name.

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MsJenn_The_RN has 2 years experience and specializes in Critical Care (MICU).

1 Article; 16 Posts; 419 Profile Views

Update: I have had a cough for the last 4-6 weeks, but so has everyone around me, because it’s pollen season. I noticed last night, though, that the cough felt a little different. Tonight, I started feeling really bad really fast. Just checked my temp...3 times...and it’s 100.5. And now I’m REALLY freaked out.

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ML1376 has 3 years experience and specializes in ICU.

23 Posts; 591 Profile Views

Please contact a health care provider!

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3 Followers; 4,776 Posts; 36,704 Profile Views

8 hours ago, Jeffrey James Keely said:

You know unfortunately our government did not protect us as they should have; but being a Nurse means that you may have to put your life on the line to save others. I was a Disaster Nurse for DMATCA4 and DMATCA6 for seven years for NDMS; HOME LAND SECURITY after 911. Taking care of people with unknown disorders or going into Austere environments is what nurses do. I do feel for you though , we should have the appropriate equipment to keep us as safe as possible for the circumstances we are working. It doesn't make you a coward to expect to have the appropriate PPE. Our Govt. dismantled the pandemic task force in 2018. That is why our response is so poor. Take care of your self and your family. if you don't take care of your self; you can't take care of others. Jeffrey J. Keely,BSN,PHN,RN. CA

I don't recall ever being told that being a nurse required me to sacrifice my own life or health, put my life on the line to save others, or go into austere environments. Some nurses do this - like PHN's in CA.

Our government is in a shambles and it's not all Trump's fault. And GM and perhaps other companies are absolutely without conscience it seems. They

are either refusing to switch to making essential healthcare items or want an exorbitant fee to do it. They seem to prefer to sell to the highest bidders, not get the lifesaving items to our own health care workers immediately, which I believe they could do.

I hope GM and other pigs are done because hopefully no one will want their stinking vehicles after things get back to normal.

For OP - I am sorry for your dilemma. This, too, shall pass. Since you are the mother of a young child, put that child first. Before your job or your patients. What is the point of potentially leaving him motherless while you work to save others' lives, albeit heroically (but in my selfish opinion foolishly)?

What people don't seem to realize is that people are going to die. That is sad but our leaders in government and those who are supposed to prepare health care settings for epidemics, pandemics, mass casualty situations failed to adequately stockpile anywhere near enough supplies.

Death is happening, it is going to continue. It is not your fault that visitors are not allowed or that this bug is going to outlive a lot of us.

I don't think anyone, especially the mother of a young child, is called upon to martyr themselves because of someone else's failure. But everyone has to decide for him- or herself.

The CDC has decided to risk your life by issuing guidelines that it likely is aware are probably wrong. Your Admin probably keeps a safe distance from the ED, ICU, and other pestilence-laden areas. So forget the heroics and take care of your child by taking care of yourself. And forget feeling guilty about deserting colleagues. They would probably desert you given half an opportunity to do so. Yes, I am cynical after many years of working and seeing all of the backstabbing and under-but-throwing by peers and bosses. You decide for you.

Maybe some of the items Russia is sending us will get to you. When did we ever think this would happen?

Good luck and God bless.

Edited by Kooky Korky

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6 hours ago, cazreye said:

I have no intention of putting my life on the line to save others. Especially when the risk to my life is due to poor planning and greed by those In hospital boardrooms. I didn’t sign up to go to a war torn country or work on an aircraft carrier. I got a job in my local hospital, who agreed to keep me safe by providing all ppe as required by osha.

This same hospital that expects so much sacrifice from me is the same one who puts ‘points’ on me for such infractions as being one minute late and forgetting my badge. Points lead to reprimands from managers and dismissals. They are the same ones who treat nurses like they are narc fiends and write us up if we don’t give a narc within one hour of pulling it. But these same petty bastards want me to risk my life and my children’s lives?

When anyone starts waving flags and playing on emotions, making nurses feel guilty, I always remind them this is a job. The same job that will reprimand and fire you for any number of inconsequential things. If you die they will just hire another nurse. The guy that runs your hospital doesn’t even know your name.

This

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balletomane has 8 years experience as a ADN, RN and specializes in Neurology/Oncology.

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"but being a Nurse means that you may have to put your life on the line to save others."

Really? I want to know where it says this. I truly do. Is that what we're taught? I don't remember. Is that an oath? Is that a law...in that I lose my license if I don't? What are the parameters? I am always hearing, "You must take care of yourself, or you can't care for others." Now I'm hearing, "You must care for others 'til you die!" Well, which is it?

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RN-to- BSN has 6 years experience as a ADN, RN and specializes in SCRN.

246 Posts; 4,930 Profile Views

I am sorry, but you went into that job full of hopes and dreams. And now all that is crashing. It will pass, though. You will awaken and see how the hopes of helping your patients by being there for them are rushed and criticized by the managers and bureaucracy of the hospital system. This is real nursing, unfortunately.

I enjoyed reading your post, very well expressed emotions. Thank you!

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322 Posts; 71,849 Profile Views

This may be controversial but I believe that nurses working during this pandemic should be getting their money worth. They should be getting paid more than they usually do (I.e. more so than a travel nurse's salary pre-pandemic). They should be receiving extra benefits (I.e. free food, free transportation, free lodging, life insurance, Scholarships for their family members, etc.).

If a nurse is not getting anything extra, then society is taking advantage of that nurse. As mentioned previously, if you die, they would just replace you with another nurse and give two ****s about those you left behind.

Edited by DTWriter

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