At most hospitals, nurses are the first line of defense — gathering information, conducting initial screenings and alleviating patients’ trepidation.
During the coronavirus pandemic, nurses are on the front lines. Carter Todd, a nurse in UC Davis Medical Center’s pediatric intensive care unit, says facilities across the country are taking extra precautions these days, such as conducting temperature checks and pre-screening anyone who comes in for possible symptoms.
“It’s made nurses and clinicians and everyone at the hospital more vigilant with the way that we protect ourselves and protect the other people that are in the hospital,” shared Todd, who also serves as president of the Capitol City Black Nurses Association.
“We come in contact with germs and scary bugs every day. This one has gotten under the microscope, or magnifying glass, of the whole country and the world,” he continued.
Health experts recommend people minimize the potential of spreading COVID-19 with thorough hand washing and for those still out working, the disinfection of name tags and ID badges, removal of watches and jewelry and keeping street clothes separate from uniforms or other work clothing.
“I know some nurses change their shoes before they get in the car,” Todd said. “I know other nurses who practice sanitizing their bags and their equipment before they get home.”
Todd says he’s very mindful of the possibility of bringing microscopic bugs home to his family.
“Working as a nurse I’ve already been very careful with two small children. I take my shoes off in the laundry room, immediately upon getting in the house. I do not walk through the home in my scrubs. I immediately take a shower when I get home. I might kiss my babies walking by, but I definitely don’t do any hugs or big interaction before I’ve taken a shower and cleaned myself up.”
Todd’s wife Anne is also an “essential worker,” she’s a pediatrician at a local Kaiser. At the beginning of the pandemic, the couple began to have conversations about remaining on the job.
“The both of us have a high chance of exposure every day we go to work,” he said. “So there was a conversation of should one of us stay working and the other one be secluded? Should we send the children to stay with grandparents for the time being?
“I’ve heard of other nurses camping out in an RV in front of their house and not having any interaction with their families. I think it comes down to what each family is comfortable doing and how they feel safe.”
The Todds decided to limit interaction to themselves and their children.
“We haven’t seen our parents, we haven’t seen our in-laws, our neighbors, our friends, or our family. I haven’t seen anyone outside of the work setting since this all came to fruition.
“In other countries they took real extreme measures to where healthcare professionals are having to stay isolated. Fortunately here in America that hasn’t been happening on a global scale, but that’s something to be aware of,” Todd said.
As CCBNA president, Todd has been busy, listening, from a distance, to members’ issues and working to find answers.
“From a nursing standpoint we obviously are concerned taking care of patients and our safety and the chance of spreading it to our families and our loved ones, so there’s been a lot of talk about how to stay safe and how to advocate for being able to take care of patients in the best way possible.”
Student members are also dealing with cancelled courses and layoffs and how they’ll make student loan payments with no income coming in.
“With the Capital City Black Nurses Association our biggest focus has been trying to educate and getting the most current information out. It’s been unique in the sense that it’s been almost daily that there’s new recommendations and new guidelines to follow. Even as a nurse it’s been difficult to follow, so for people in the community it’s probably exponentially harder to know how to stay safe and what to really understand about what’s going on, so we’ve been trying to reach out via our social media pages and spreading the most current, accurate knowledge as possible.”
The spread of the virus, the uncertainty of treatment and a rising death toll has shaken many and healthcare workers aren’t immune to the fear.
“The heightened level of worry is from everyone, and that’s from at the hospital to going into the grocery store, you can just feel it. It’s palpable.
“As a nurse we deal with bugs and germs and viruses every single day, so our day-to-day hasn’t changed much aside from how we’re protecting ourselves while we’re taking care of patients. I think it’s just the constant need to figure out what’s going on and trying to stay most current with all the changes in direction on how to best handle this COVID-19 problem.
Although he’s fully aware of the dangers of his job, Todd says he feels privileged in being able to do it.
“I feel like it’s a huge honor to serve and go to work every day. I became a nurse to help people, obviously and that’s core. I had a calling to become a nurse. I have two aunts who were nurses and I saw how compassionate and happy they were with what they did as a profession and I wanted some of that. I became a nurse to be able to make an impact on people’s lives every day and this COVID-19 hasn’t has not changed that at all. If anything, it’s solidified that I’m in the right profession, because we need people during this time to be on the front lines who are combating this COVID-19 and other viruses and illnesses so that it doesn’t get out of hand.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Sacramento OBSERVER presents the first of several conversations with local African American health professionals working during the continuing coronavirus pandemic to meet needs of patients amid concerns for their own safety.
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer