Updated: Aug 8, 2020
"I'm here to fight for truth, and justice, and the American way." -Superman
As I walked into the hospital doors for the first time, I glanced around. The faces of nervous patients entering the ER watched me as I looked on. I had just been dropped off by my Uber driver. I was happy that when I entered the car he had increased the volume on the Reggaeton station. I don't know why but I always feel disappointed when the driver changes to a station they believe I want to listen to. It's always refreshing to appreciate another person's taste in music, and so I enjoyed my commute to work that morning.
It had been a frustrating week. Although, I was paid to be on standby, I was slightly annoyed- but mostly restless. My first two years as a new nurse were shared in the Emergency Room, and I still have to remind myself to slowdown because of it.
So, as I entered the hospital and pushed past the people checking in, I saw a huge mural that caught my eye. It was a series of paintings depicting healthcare workers as Superheroes. My initial reaction was it was a nice gesture, but I was skeptical. I had seen the signs and read the praises from the press, only to continue to drown at work from a lack of resources. I paused. I didn't want my negative thinking to ruin my day. I decided to take a photo to commemorate the occasion. The music from my Uber ride still filling my spirit; I was optimistic.
I was early and that never happened. I had a whole comedy sketch dedicated to arriving to work late: a former nurse personality that I endorsed in the form of satire-- Nurse Ratchet. But here I was on time to work. I didn't want to miss a second of this long- awaited start date.
The nurse educators and everyone in HR were amazing. The day was off to a good start. We went through your normal run of the mill on-boarding and corporate orientation. I had heard the pitch a thousand and one times, but my ears perked up when discussing PPE. Apparently, we were granted a 'bundle': five gowns, one mask, and a face shield. We were to use one gown for our assessment and trained to enter multiple rooms without doffing PPE.
This was shocking to me. Sure, at one of my hospitals back home PPE was low. We were using cloth gowns and gowns donated by Home Depot made from housing materials, but we were not using one gown for multiple patient interactions. I was concerned, but surely that could not be what was occurring in actual practice.
After completing my online modules, I was escorted to the COVID ward to complete my four hours of hospital orientation. It was a bit intimidating; the pumps and charting system were both new to me. But, I decided to put my best foot forward, and I entered the ward with my N95 mask on. I had been fitted for my mask earlier that day, but of course, it would be my only one for the remainder of the week.
The double doors pushed open and the first person I questioned happened to be my preceptor.
"Are you one of those FEMA Nurses?"
This was the second time I had been asked that today, and I still wasn't quite used to being referred to as a 'FEMA Nurse', but I confirmed that I was indeed one. My first impression was the nurse was pleasant and cheerful, but busy. My guilt kicked in. I didn't want to burden them, but I needed to learn all I could in four hours. Once they got a minute, they showed me around the unit and my worse fears were confirmed-- one gown for the day, but per patient. We were to hang our gowns on the back of the door between use.
I had spent the last four months on a 27 -bed, COVID ward and had never run into this problem.
I was grateful for the experience and the ability to compare and contrast hospital practices. I discussed with the nurse my fears of cross contamination. They spoke with me through their personally- acquired respirator, their voice muffled:
They acknowledged and validated my concerns, but it was also a resignation. I wanted to empower this nurse. Why were they accepting this? What was their hospital doing to protect them? I wanted to start a picket line for them, but the nurse seemed happy. Sure, we had discussed that they were a new parent with a new baby at home, but they appeared proud of the work they were doing here, and so I understood the resignation.
I'm learning to reel my passion in. Sometimes, we can't always force people to see injustice. Although, I fight for justice and equality, I have to recognize the context in which I bring it up, and so I decided not to discuss the disparities in PPE between the two hospitals. I didn't want staff to lose morale. I will continue to protect myself and lead by example, but it was not my job to create political discourse in the work environment.
The nurses were so busy that day. They were so young-- frantically working. What they needed at this time was help. This was a time to work together. One room down a patient was actively dying from COVID, their family on FaceTime, unable to say their final goodbyes. This reminded me to stay the course. I was here with a mission to bring quality care to the COVID population, to learn and study the disease, and to incorporate current best practice into my care.
Tomorrow is my second day on assignment, and I will continue to fight for those big virtues of truth, justice, and the American way:
a dream of equality and the pursuit of happiness that includes the human right to healthcare.
The unit is busier than my units back home, the patients are sicker, and the help is scarce, but I will continue to share my light and receive the light of those around me. I know I am where I am supposed to be and I trust and walk into that purpose.