Nurse Describes Battling COVID Crisis in NYC Hospital: ‘I Can’t Even Adequately Express the Grief’
| Ann Feeney
Nurses and other healthcare staff continue to work grueling schedules due to the COVID-19 pandemic, having to fill in for infected staffers or individuals in quarantine. Emotionally, they share concern for themselves, their families, and their colleagues. They also must grieve for the patients they lose and endure the pressure of caring for patients who cannot receive the comfort of family and friends at their side.
Some nurses, like Anna Slayton, seek out COVID-19 at its worst, traveling to New York City and other places where leaders have called for help to respond to surges. In New York City, for example, the number of ICU travel nurse jobs rose by 1,038%. Slayton shares why she chose to respond, how she and other nurses remain strong, forecasts on the future, and self-care advice for nurses and the general public.
Anna Slayton, BSN, RN-BC
Anna Slayton, board-certified registered nurse (RN), Walden University master of science in nursing student and RN-to-BSN graduate, possesses over 10 years of patient care experience in the nursing field. She is currently employed with two hospital systems in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex — Baylor Scott & White Emergency Hospitals and Methodist Health System.
Her business, Kardia Wellness, plans to provide holistic-based virtual health coaching and in-person consults to those who lack access to or need a more optimal way to see healthcare providers.
Those of us on the front lines are really in the trenches right now. We're taking care of the wounded and assisting people who are dying, and it is very, very hard. I can't even adequately express the grief, the anxiety, and the overall weight that healthcare workers are carrying with them right now.
One thing that is really challenging is that those of us who are at the bedside don't necessarily have the time to look at every single individual piece of research that's happening right now. So, if something is rolled out to us as the bedside provider and we're told that it will help our patients, we say, "OK, this is effective, we're going to do this."
The most challenging, exhausting, and frustrating thing is that now there are studies coming out saying that what we've been doing may not be as effective as we thought it was or may even be worsening outcomes.
There are still so many questions and so many unknowns out there, and as nurses, we really just have to focus on those patients we are assigned to each day and do the best that we can to provide them with exceptional care based on the information and the knowledge that we do have.
There were a lot of very sad cases in our unit. One was a woman in her late 80s who had several comorbidities and was in the process of dying. I had to help her daughter say goodbye to her mother over the phone, listening as she sang her mother songs and said her goodbyes.
Since she wasn't able to be there in person, I made it my priority to be there in her place. Over a few days, I held the woman's hand and stayed at her bedside as much as possible until it was finally her time. It was a night of grieving, not only for my patient and her daughter, but in memory of all the loved ones I had lost not long before my son passed away. In only three short years, I had lost two uncles and both of my maternal grandparents, then shortly after, my son Gavin.
I am not a stranger to death, but because I am around it so often, it doesn't always sting the way that it does with most. Many nurses can understand this. Being next to this dying woman, I wept and cried over my own losses, holding her hand in place of those that I wasn't able to. Once she took her last breath, I called her daughter and wept with her as well. I won't ever forget that night.
Remember to take care of yourself during this time. COVID-19 is an aggressive, scary, and unpredictable virus that is taking the lives even of those who are otherwise healthy. As we continue to learn and educate ourselves on the virus, make an effort to be an active member in your own health and wellness because, at the end of the day, you are responsible for yourself. Focus on your immune system and proper nutrition.
Take vitamins, such as vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin D, increase your fluid intake, exercise and try to get some fresh air and sunshine daily, eat a whole food diet, continue to utilize hand hygiene and sanitizing protocols, wear a face mask in public settings, and continue to respect social distancing.
COVID-19 Resources for Healthcare Workers
Below is a list of free online COVID-19 resources that can help individuals, military members, healthcare workers, and healthcare organizations respond to the pandemic while maintaining their mental and emotional wellbeing.
SAMHSA Disaster Distress HotlineThis service, free for any United States resident, offers disaster counseling. Users can call or text a toll-free number for confidential professional support, including referrals to local resources for themselves or loved ones. Users can receive services in more than 100 languages.
The Emotional PPE ProjectHealthcare workers experiencing trauma or stress can access this directory, which lists licensed mental health professionals who volunteer to provide free telehealth therapy services.
How to Cope with Stress and Build Resilience During the COVID-19 PandemicThis CDC guide advises healthcare workers and first responders on recognizing stress and finding ways to cope and build resilience. It also lists additional stress management resources.
COVID CoachCOVID Coach is a free app from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It provides mental health support and resources and includes trackers for measuring progress towards mental wellness goals.
COVID Staffing ProjectThis collaboration provides interactive calculators and other tools for hospitals to project their staffing needs, efficiently deploy their staff, and protect healthcare workers' wellbeing.
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