Coronavirus Stories: Life As A Healthcare Worker in the USA During the COVID-19 Pandemic
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Welcome back to Coronavirus Stories. A collection of short stories written by YOU, our readers from around the globe, sharing how their lives have been affected by COVID-19.
Today’s story is written by Lindsay, a radiation therapist who treats cancer patients at a hospital in the suburbs of Philaldelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. She shares how her life has changed as a healthcare worker on the front line of our fight against COVID-19.
Coping with Daily Changes at the Hospital Due to COVID-19
As the virus was beginning to become serious in the states, the amount of emails from the hospital increased with policies and procedures starting to change daily. Being in health care, I knew this would be a crazy time especially treating my cancer patients who are those more at risk than others.
First, the changes started with letting patients only bring the same visitor with them everyday for their treatments and surveying them the first day. Next, we weren’t allowed to come to work without taking our temperature and reporting that it was below 100.4.
As days went on, the amount of changes were draining and almost impossible to keep up with. Each day something new was rolling out, whether it was about something we needed to do or something we asked of our patient.
Worried for Our Patients
As days passed, one of the changes that took place was patients were no longer allowed to have any visitors. If they needed a driver due to their disease, the driver needed to wait in the car. This is not always an easy task since some of our patients are elderly with dementia on top of being sick from cancer, or they might be in a wheelchair. There are also some patients that don’t speak English, and their families are the ones that translate if need be.
In these cases we had to make some judgement calls that would still follow the new policies being made. For those who needed extra assistance, their visitor could bring them and check them in for treatment, then would have to wait in the car. For those that didn’t speak the language, we made sure that if there were any changes in their health or well being that someone called us before the patient came in for treatment. If the patient had to be seen for their weekly doctor visit their visitor could come in just for the visit.
For those who don’t know the process of a patient going through radiation treatments, the patient comes daily Monday to Friday for 5 to 45 times depending on the area of treatment. Because of the frequency of treatment us therapists get to know our patients pretty well, and we can help them cope with some of the changes going on around them.
On top of this change we now have to survey our patients daily asking if they have cold or flu symptoms, have been in contact with someone with the virus, or have been tested for the virus. This lasted for a couple days before we were told to start taking their temperature before bringing them in for treatment.
Adjusting to the New PPE Requirements
The next thing to change was that we had to wear surgical masks everyday to protect ourselves and try to make them last more then one shift due to the shortage. Then we had the option to wear cloth masks that we had to bring home and wash daily. These policies were also short lived, and changed again in the following days.
Next, since radiation therapists provide direct patient care, we then had to wear a surgical mask covered by a cloth mask to make sure our surgical mask would last longer. The cloth mask on the outermost layer was cleaned daily. On top of all these changes we are working with limited staff to keep some people home in case one of us were to get infected. Not only are we trying to keep up with all the changes happening, but we are working with less staff and doing more tasks.
At the end of a shift when it’s time to take off the mask we have to store the surgical mask property for the next day and then wear our cloth mask until we get to the car. That moment that you take off your mask and can get a breath of fresh air is the best feeling after breathing the same hot air all day.
On a positive note, the hospital did start to supply us with free meals while we work.
This doesn’t even begin to make up for all the changes that were made just for my job and I’m not on the full front line like other nurses working in the ER’s and ICUs with severely ill patients or those who have contracted the virus.
Home Life Challenges As a Radiation Therapist
Not only were things changing in the hospital, but I made some changes in my personal life too. Starting with what I do when I get home from work. Now, when I come home from work, I take off my shoes, spray them down, and keep them separate from other shoes.
For days I wore a jacket to work, I keep it on a separate hook outside of the closet and make sure I use that same jacket for the entire week. When I come home from work, once I walk in from the garage I go right into the laundry room where I strip my scrubs, socks, and mask and throw them straight into the washer. They sit in the washer until Friday when all my scrubs for the week are ready to be washed.
Once I have stripped off my dirty clothes, I wipe my phone and wash my hands. After that I jump right into the shower to clean the rest of my body before putting on other clothes. At the end of the week, I add my jacket and towels to the scrubs and start the wash.
There have been times that I’ve had to run to the store after work to get some groceries. Since I pass the store on the way home I just run in to get what I need. There have been times that people have seen me in the aisle and moved to another aisle because I’m in my scrubs. I have also heard people whisper things and stare at me.
To me though, it is easier to grocery shop on my way home than to go through my whole cleaning process at home just to go back out to get what I need. I know some people think I could be carrying the disease because I’m in scrubs, but I am probably one of the people who is the most cautious due to working in the hospital. I have probably washed my hands more often and wiped down my phone and only touch the necessary things I need in the store. So while the non medical personnel might see it as a bad thing, it’s no different than the average person going out shopping.
I am also making sure I’m only running out for essentials and ordering stuff online when possible. On the rare occasion I do leave the house other than to go to work, I make sure I wipe down the inside of my car before getting in. I am also trying to order out once a week from local businesses to support them and help the local restaurants stay open since I am one of the lucky ones to be working.
Missing Family and Friends
These are just a few things that have changed in my life, and I haven’t even touched on the fact that everything is cancelled for the weekends and week nights. In regards to my life outside of work, I’m an extrovert so this is very different than my normal life. Instead of going on vacations or visiting friends and family, everything is a phone call or video call of some sort. Simple things like visiting my sister and parents isn’t something that can be done.
Due to working in the medical field and having parents that are immune-compromised, it’s not safe for me to go hang out at their house to visit. Some events that were planned are now postponed or done in a virtual way. An example is one of my friend’s baby showers that I’m hosting via zoom so she can open her gifts and still feel like she’s having a shower before she has her baby. This is how we have to make ourselves seem like we are doing some of the normal things in our lives.
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