By Sarah Alaeddin – Executive Editor
Sarah: What is your name and occupation?
Elizabeth: My name is Elizabeth Alaeddin and I’m a registered nurse. I work at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson, NJ.
Sarah: What unit do you work in?
Elizabeth: I work in the Medical Surgery/Oncology unit. I typically deal with cancer patients.
Sarah: What is your typical day at work like during the pandemic?
Elizabeth: I walk into my twelve-hour shift at 6:52 AM. After I clock in, I go to my locker and put on PPE (personal protective equipment). I wear an N-95 mask, an additional face mask, a head covering, and a headband with buttons sewn in to protect my ears from the strain of the masks.
Sarah: How does the PPE feel?
Elizabeth: It’s very uncomfortable. And this is just what I wear on my unit. On the occasions where they need more help on a floor with COVID-19 patients, I also have to wear a gown and a face shield, which make me sweat like crazy. It’s so hard to take any of it off—pausing to take a drink or use the bathroom takes too long and often isn’t worth it during a shift. But I have to be grateful because there were shortages in a lot of equipment at the beginning of the pandemic.
Sarah: When working in the oncology unit, what do you do after putting on the PPE?
Elizabeth: After I put on all the gear, I take a report on my first patient from the night shift nurse. This takes about half an hour. I introduce myself to the patient. I then repeat this process for another 4 or 5 patients. I disinfect everything I touch—computers, the nurse’s station—before and after I touch it. Before the pandemic, we would use whatever computer was available. But now, to further limit the spread germs, we make sure that each person has their own computer.
Sarah: You often come home and say “I was running around all day long”. On the average day, where are you running to?
Elizabeth: I check prescription orders, give medication to patients. If something is too low or high in the patient—like potassium levels or blood pressure—I call the doctor to inform them and see if anything needs to be done.
Sarah: Does it get crazy?
Elizabeth: Every day is a crisis. The other day, I had a sickle cell patient with low hemoglobin. I called the chemo-oncologist doctor to see if she needed a blood transfusion. He said it would be best to wait and see. Later, her primary doctor came and recommended the transfusion, so he called the first doctor. Finally, they agreed to give her the transfusion. But her blood is difficult to match. And they didn’t want to give her the blood at night because they were afraid that the abundance of antibodies would give her a reaction. And this is a typical day! With or without the pandemic.
Sarah: What has it been like since the hospital has banned visitors?
Elizabeth: I’ve been even busier with patients’ families. Since people are not allowed to visit, they are allowed to call in to check on their loved ones. It’s supposed to be that one person is designated to call and ask about their ill family member, but most people ignore this.
So instead of one phone call per patient, I’ll get five or six calls. And I don’t have much time to take phone calls to begin with when I’m trying to treat their sick family member. And of course, you need to take the time to make sure that the person who is calling is actually related to the patient due to privacy laws. For this reason, we encourage family members to call the patient to check on them instead of calling the hospital.
It also has a negative effect on the patients. Since the banning of visitors, I’ve noticed that many patients feel worse. Sure, a lot of people can Facetime their loved ones or call them on the phone, but it’s not the same as a physical human presence. Not to mention that there are some patients who are confused or unconscious and can’t call their loved ones. Even the food is different for them—a lot of patients have their loved ones bring them homemade food or food of their culture so that they don’t have to eat the hospital food, and that is no longer an option for them.
Sarah: Are you scared of going to work?
Elizabeth: When it’s my turn to help on the COVID-19 floor, yes. I’m afraid of getting Coronavirus, but I’m more afraid of giving it to my family. Especially when we’re running low on PPE. Aside from that, I’d say that my job is a little more annoying, what with all the extra disinfecting and protection gear. But it’s necessary. I would never change jobs—I love being a nurse.
Sarah: How can people help healthcare workers?
Elizabeth: Be thoughtful and patient. Remember that healthcare workers have a lot of patients to take care of—not just your loved one—and are trying their best to treat every single one of them. And most nurses, like me, work twelve-hour shifts where all we do is take care of patients. We know that you’re stressed, but so are we.