One Minnesota Nurse’s In-Depth 8-Month Account of the Pandemic

Photo credit: Melissa Neeb

Here is the entire account of “Nurse D’s” firsthand experience navigating the Covid-19 pandemic, from the beginning of 2020 through November 22nd, 2020.

She wishes to remain anonymous.

To read more nurse accounts, click here.

In the beginning of 2020, we briefly heard all the reports about the Covid-19 outbreak and I was particularly interested due to me having family and lifelong friends all over Europe. I watched in disbelief the death rate going up on a daily basis and how this virus wiped out whole families.

Not to worry, so I thought. We are thousands and thousands of miles away and this virus shouldn’t reach us. Even if it would make its way over here, it should be weakened or a vaccination will be out by that time.

As we all know this, unfortunately, is not the way it turned out and the first outbreak happened in the United States. This is when all the CDC guidelines came out.

I had the “pleasure” of reading hundreds of policies, guidelines, procedures, and rules that were changed over and over again. One policy was put in place and 24 hours a new one came out; sometimes we had 2 updated guidelines within the same day. The decision was made to go on lockdown, just for a while, until the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and MDH (Minnesota Department of Health) could figure out how to get this under control. This was the middle of March!!!

Due to the nature of my position, I was in charge of keeping all my staff informed about the guidelines, policies, and our PPE training. It didn’t trouble me at all; after all, I served in the Army before and had experience with infection control and PPE. I trained all our staff on how to properly wash their hands, how to properly wear a mask and goggles, and of course I set up a plan on how we would run a full-blown outbreak if it ever would reach our facility.

Visitations were suspended, any outdoor activities were cancelled; we had a tight ship going. We only allowed essential personnel into our facility and even then they had to screen-in by answering a sheet filled with questions, had their temperature taken, and needed to wear a mask and goggles. Everybody was on board; after all, we had to protect our residents, our care providers, and their families.

Fast forward….April, May, June, July….

People got anxious! Resident’s families couldn’t understand that we were still on lockdown. Nothing really happened and the voices got louder that residents needed to see their families. We agreed, but how do we make it work? We had to keep our residents safe and follow the CDC and MDH guidelines while keeping residents’ families happy.

Outdoor visitations started. 6 feet apart, no touching, no hugging, and keep masks on.

Remind you, we are talking about 80+ year old residents who have a hard time hearing in the first place. Now try to have a conversation with your loved one while wearing a mask and being 6 feet apart. We tried our hardest to make it work like they were sitting right next to the resident and being their “bullhorn” so the family could have a conversation.

We knew it wasn’t ideal but we tried to keep our residents, families, and the CDC and MDH happy. The last thing we wanted was to get fined because we didn’t follow the guidelines and policies.

Summer passed and fall was knocking at the door…6 months down and counting…

My care providers got tired of me hunting them down with yet another handwashing/PPE audit. We heard about a single case here and there but nothing too worrisome. Can’t be that bad, right?!?

School started back up face-to-face and I was sure they knew what they were doing.

Alright, we only had a couple months left this year and the major holidays were coming up and our families got anxious yet again. The phones were ringing left and right asking if we finally opened back up.

Families were understanding yet requested to have physical contact with their loved one. The decision was made to open up the doors for indoor visitation due to the colder temperatures being right around the corner. Our facility did not have the ability to keep going with outdoor visits.

We had a plan: 3 visitors per hour, screening in, surgical mask, hand sanitation, goggles, and a walk from the front door straight to the residents room…again…no physical contact and the mask needed to be worn at all times. When the hour was up, the visitor had to leave the building and the care providers disinfected as much touchable surfaces as possible.

Fast forward to 2 weeks after having our first indoor visitation…

It was a Friday afternoon when I got a text message from one of my management members saying that they went in to get tested due to having some mild flu symptoms and a free test was conducted in their area that particular day. Thinking nothing of it, I went on with my evening; it’s flu season, it probably is nothing.

Oh boy, was I wrong.

She tested positive. Because of the close work-relationship that management has in our facility while at work and privately, all of us had to go into quarantine and get tested that following Monday. Each of us got a different test: one had the saliva test, one got the mid-nasal, and one got the throat swab. Now the waiting began.

We were all convinced that we were positive due to the fact that we had just spent the last 3 days in close contact. We went out together to a meeting, spent lunch hours together, had a zoom meeting, and even went to purchase Christmas decorations for our facility.

I’m not going to lie, a lot of scenarios went through my head but my main concern was my family:

What if, after all these months of training and preparing, I brought it home to my family. What if my babies got sick? What about my husband? He has underlining health conditions and I could be the reason for him to get severely sick.

Believe me when I say that that night I said a very long prayer and didn’t sleep for a few nights until I finally got my test results…NEGATIVE…all 3 of us!!! YAHHH

Per CDC and MDH guidelines, because we were in contact with a confirmed Covid-19 positive person and we didn’t have any symptoms, we had to stay out for 14 days. I drove my daughter to my workplace, gave her my keys, and told her to get me the most important folders, files, calendars, and other necessities for me to keep doing my job remotely.

Now the mandatory testing for our residents and staff started:

We had a runny nose here and there, but again, it’s October and we just went from wearing t-shirts to having a 4-foot snow blizzard in one day. We are fine: after all, we had been following every single guideline for months and my girls were pros by now.

Oh boy, was I wrong again.

First round of testing and my care providers and residents tested positive one by one. Care providers had to stay home and positive residents had to go to full quarantine in their rooms. 2 week notices started to get placed on my desk.

Care providers told me that they wouldn’t show up for their shift because they were afraid to bring it home. We were down to 5 care providers and 3 of them where high schoolers who only worked part-time.

Parents started pulling their children out of fear of them getting sick. We didn’t have enough care providers left to cover all our shifts, so the decision was made to pull management out of quarantine so that we could work the floor.

Head count: 4 management, 2 care providers, and only 2 people for the kitchen were left with about 20 Covid-positive residents.

The next 10 days were the hardest and longest days that I had to endure since my service time. I decided to pack a suitcase because I knew I wouldn’t be going home for quite a while.

A: It wasn’t logical to drive back and forth just for a few hours that I may get a break and B: I didn’t want to take a chance of infecting my family.

We worked between 15 to 18 hours each day, trying to catch a quick snooze on blown-up air mattresses that we brought in and set up in our movie theater. We were eating a bunch of junk food while running up and down the hallway answering pages from residents who were running a temperature, had diarrhea, or were coughing so hard that they couldn’t catch their breath or were throwing up.

When I tell you that our Crocs didn’t have a profile left after these 10 days, I’m not over exaggerating. Around day #4, we noticed residents dropping in their O2. We normally would like to see a person’s O2 in the mid to upper 90’s if they don’t have underlining health conditions such as COPD.

We had residents complaining of shortness of breath left and right with an O2 in the mid 80’s. We were running to get oxygen tanks and hook up our residents so they could receive some sort of comfort. Ambulances were called because our residents where laughing one minute and dropping in their vitals the next and begging us for air.

It was a nightmare and not the even the best training or PPE could ever prepare you for this. Ambulances brought our residents back due to their age and the underlining health conditions they had.

Plain and simple, the hospital needed beds for people that had a chance of recovery.

We went from being a healthy facility with 28 residents and 25 care providers to 25 residents testing positive, 5 of them getting put on hospice, and about 8 bodies to work and keep the facility running, all within a few days.

If you think it couldn’t get any worse, think again…

We lost 4 of our residents in a matter of 3 days!!!!

 All of our kitchen staff had to go into quarantine due to a positive test and then we had to run it all with 6 people. Mind you, on a normal day we have 3 shifts running with approximately 10 care providers, 3 kitchen staff, with maintenance and management also in the building.

When we didn’t cover the floor we spend our time in the kitchen preparing soups/salads/hot dishes or sandwiches for our residents, while in the back of my mind I was thinking about my family and how much I missed them.

While all this was going on, we also had to figure out how to utilize the plans that the CDC and MDH had in place for when a facility has an outbreak. Needless to say, their plan looked better on paper then in reality.

You would have thought that when you are giving the recommended agencies a call, you would tell them what you needed and help will be on its way: be it temporary care providers or PPE supplies.

Oh boy, was I proven wrong again.

We had to fill out a form to receive a form that needed approval first to receive yet another form that then had to be forwarded for a signature to be posted for approval.

In other words: Have fun figuring it out while we tell you all the things that you may or may not be doing wrong and then on top of that, threatening you with a visit from state to look in to your facility and your policies to see where you failed.

It’s been a very long and exhausting experience and even though we are almost done with our infection period there is still no end in sight.

My heart is heavy for the residents and families we lost and I’m still checking anxiously on my residents every day to make sure nobody else passed away from this terrible virus. We are slowly having our care providers return to work and hopefully can return to a “normal” Covid-19 free future!                   

THANK YOU to “Nurse D” and to all the nurses, doctors, and health care workers who face this virus and it’s grim effects every day and for sharing your poignant stories with all of us.

You are heroes to me and countless others.

@faithinthemess

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