Coronavirus front lines: A New York City nurse details life in a pandemic

OPINION: An inside look at what’s happening in the COVID-19 battle from the perspective of a registered nurse working in a dialysis clinic in New York City

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Nurses process a sample for COVID-19 after a patient was screened at an appointment-only, drive-up clinic.(Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

New York City has been the epicenter of the coronavirus for the last month with the most cases and fatalities in the United States. Those who are on the front lines are seeing the impact of the virus from a unique perspective. So many stories have come out of the medical community that has provided insight on the toll COVID-19 is taking on patients, families and health care professionals. Here’s an inside look at what’s happening from the perspective of a registered nurse working in a dialysis clinic in New York City.

It’s my first year as a nurse. Anytime it’s your first year in a profession, it’s tough. I was licensed in August and started working in October.

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The amount of death I’m seeing, it changed completely. I went from seeing one death a month to a huge number of patients passing away, and I’m expecting it to be almost half of my patients. It’s just upsetting. I wasn’t prepared for this much death. My patients are from the community and most are 60 and older. But there are young people on dialysis who may be waiting for a kidney transplant also.

Widespread coronavirus testing is still not available in the United States. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

There was no warning. The patients are watching TV and you’re seeing the mayor on it more and more and the patients are asking you – “Have you heard of this corona?”

You start seeing less patients showing up because they’ve died.

Nursing prepared me for mass casualties and traumas to a certain extent, but this is completely different. This is pushing health care to its limit.

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Politically, it’s easy to blame on one person, but we had nothing prepared. This outbreak did not have to be as big as it became. Had we locked down our borders and stopped travel, it wouldn’t have spread at this rate. That’s the reason NYC got hit so hard.

I have friends who started their careers in plastic surgery and they got fired because elective surgery is cancelled. One friend is only working one day a week and he lost his health insurance. He’d like to help but he doesn’t want to risk his health.

If we’re going to be the frontline and risk our health, the least you could do is insure us.

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I feel like they’re pushing nurses and doctors as heroes but they’re trying to take away from the fact that we’re people, too. I come home and I’m exhausted. I don’t even see the [dialysis] doctors as much because they are being pushed into the hospitals at this point. You might be a plastic surgeon, but we need you to do COVID right now.

You have nurses working in the OR being brought to the floor, so now they have to more patients than they’re used to and the patients are sicker. Nurses now have to do things that they’re not as comfortable with and you have nurses from different states that take time to get acclimated.

That I’ve had multiple coworkers getting sick means that that this virus was ahead of [us.] Everything should have closed down much sooner.

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Nurse tends to a recovering patient (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

I have coworkers that are petrified and because they are scared, the health care gets affected. I feel like it’s up to me to protect myself and it shouldn’t be that way. Everything has to be hidden now because we had patients stealing hand sanitizer.

I know good resources and where to get good information but the news is scaring the public. The hysteria is something that I hated. People are going out and buying massive amount of toilet paper and guns.

What we should have been doing is educating people on how to wash their hands.

You have government, health care and religion and people don’t know what or who to follow. This is a time when we need to completely isolate and its very upsetting to me as a nurse when I come out and I see people out and they’re non-essential. Some people aren’t taking it seriously.

They should always get their information from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. They’re the best resources. A lot of people try to self-diagnose and Google. This is not the time to self-diagnose.

I realize more than anything how precious life is. Enjoy the time that you can spend with your family. You don’t know how much time you have. You’re not just putting yourself at risk when you go outside you’re putting your loved ones, neighbors and community at risk. Being at home is a blessing, a luxury and a privilege.