The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

By Deborah McAlister
Guest columnist 

Registered nurse: Please protect yourself

 

Last updated 12/22/2020 at 7:18pm

McAlister

In my 25 years with Plains Regional Medical Center in Clovis, I have never experienced anything like the past two months during the COVID-19 surge.

This is a real struggle, one that is hard to put into words.

Our staff has never had to work at this intensity for such extended periods of time. The influx of patients with acute COVID-19 and other conditions has increased exponentially, requiring more staff for each patient.

We have done a great deal, including hiring traveling nurses to meet additional staffing needs and redeploying staff from other areas to care for additional patients.

Staff members continue to do the best they can, each day. They don masks, gowns, and shields, wrapping themselves in personal protective equipment. The constant, habitual guarding oneself and others from a deadly virus takes a toll on every provider.

COVID-19 has a way of snowballing into so many other things. To protect our patients and staff, our hospital has had to restrict visitors, which is difficult for patients and their families, as well as the teams caring for them. I experienced this myself when my father had a quadruple bypass surgery earlier in the pandemic.

Without family at the bedside, our clinicians connect to patients by holding their hands, comforting them and propping up iPads and phones so patients can see and hear the voices of their loved ones, some for the last time.

While caring for patients with COVID-19, we are also trying to take care of each other. The volume of "Code Blues" - signifying patients in respiratory or cardiac arrest - as well as the acuity and number of patients creates significant mental health strain for providers.

When one of our team is having a difficult time, including if a patient has died on their watch, other staff members often light a lavender candle for them. This shows we are thinking of them and recognize that they are struggling. This quiet signal brings a colleague to their side, asking "What do you need?" or offering to do a task for them so they can take a quick break.

We also use hands-free communication devices to send kind or humorous voice messages to each other.

The bottom line is this:

You may think everything is OK and that you won't get COVID. Or, that if you do, you'll be fine. But not everyone recovers and those who do are very fortunate.

I speak from experience. I contracted COVID-19 in the community and brought it home to my family. When we fell ill, we were not sure we would recover. It was frightening. I worried about protecting my family, and I worried about not being at work to support my colleagues.

Although we are standing in the middle of this storm, there is hope.

Promising vaccine candidates are on their way, although it may take up to six months before they are widely available.

However, if more people don't follow COVID-safe practices, hospitals will increasingly struggle to find staff and beds to take care of patients.

During this holiday season, I ask you to stay home and follow recommended guidelines to bring COVID-19 cases down. I know everyone is tired of this and how it has affected every part of our lives. But COVID-19 can happen to you too. Please protect yourselves and those around you.

Deborah McAlister is a registered nurse and interim chief nursing officer at Plains Regional Medical Center. Contact her at:

[email protected]

 
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