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Being A Nurse During A Pandemic

by: Amelia Baffa RN, MSN (AYA nurse navigator)

We have been asked to engage in battle with an enemy we cannot see, a shape shifter, an adaptable and resilient virus that is dodgy, cunning, and deadly. We have been asked to care for others who are under attack by this virus, we have been asked to put ourselves and our families at risk, we have been asked to put our lives on the line. Before the battle has barely begun we are running out of necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as the supply chain shortages worsen and the population becomes sicker and sicker. We are facing surges of individuals who will be become seriously ill this week and next. They will require critical care beds, highly trained nurses, and many will require mechanical ventilation. When we ask our battle commanders how we kill this thing, they tell us there is no cure.

When we ask them if there is any way we can shield ourselves from this thing, they say we have no vaccines available. What we do have is experience. We have learned lessons about pandemics from the Spanish influenza and the recent pandemics in China, Italy, Spain, and now in the United States. We are running mathematical models to learn and project our best “guesses” as to the impact of this disease and how we can strategically plot our next move.

For those of us who lived through the AIDs pandemic this feels eerily familiar, we too fought an invisible enemy, and it took countless lives until we realized all the modes of transmission, shut them down, and develop viable treatments. What we do know suggests that if we as a community act and practice social distancing, stay home, and scrub our hands for 20 seconds frequently, we can actually impact the trajectory of this thing. We can “flatten the curve” buying ourselves precious time to prepare.

“I have been a nurse for over 36 years, and I can tell you that I have never seen anything like this. I pray for my brothers and sisters on the front lines they are the last line of defense, especially in “hot spots” where the pandemic is surging.

We helplessly watch news briefs nationally and locally and monitor our state and local departments of health. Our radios are tuned to National Public Radio as we listen for a glimmer of hope that something is working, that this thing is slowing down, only to hear that the worst is yet to come.

These are critical times. It’s frightening to know that you could be “reassigned” to work on the front lines at any time. It’s frightening to come to work and not have the PPE you need to be safe. We have heard accounts of nurses wearing one mask the entire day, and trash bags as gowns, because they have been told to ration supplies. I know my kind, we will selflessly give until we have given our very souls for our patients, our co-workers, our family and friends. This battle is not lost. As a society we can fight back. We can obey the stay at home orders, we can scrub our hands like our lives depend on it, and we can practice social distancing. We can continue to look out for one another.

I’d like to leave us with this thought from someone on the front lines. Her name is Dr. Amy Acton, Dr. Actin is the Director of Health for the State of Ohio. She is a beacon of light and hope during this chaotic time in history. She and Governor Mike DeWine are running one of the most successful campaigns against COVID-19 in the nation. Many other states are mirroring their edicts relying on them to help them save lives, by getting ahead of the curve. I’d like to leave you with these fighting words, as we get prepared as a nation and work force to go into battle. This is our time. Let’s not take this lying down. Let’s show them what we are made of.

 “Life is not shutting us down,
  It is waking us up.
  This is not pulling us apart,
  It is pulling us together.
  This is our moment.
  I am not fearful.
  I am determined.”

– Dr. Amy Actin- Director of the Ohio Department of Health