My Covid Story:
Regina, a 35-year-old nurse, works full time at a New York (NY) city hospital, has a two-and-a-half year old son, and is studying to become a nurse practitioner (NP). Like many of us, Regina’s busy, multilayered life was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping through the United States (U.S.) Her classes became remote and she picked up additional shifts at the hospital, volunteering on the Covid Surge unit.
Adjusting to remote learning was more complicated than Regina anticipated. Her teachers expressed frustration about trying to convey lessons that “really cannot [be taught] through a computer screen.” The students, too, felt that “expectations were unrealistic,” Regina explained. To add to her stress, Regina’s husband was working half time from home as a physical therapist while she was studying in their small apartment. Hundreds of thousands of students have had to transition to online learning. This poses a specific challenge to a large number of students who lack access to WiFi. Many, too, must share workspaces with family members or don’t have computers with microphones or cameras. Regina feels lucky to have stable WiFi access and while going to school remotely has been difficult, Regina says that it’s not nearly the hardest part of the pandemic for her.
Daycare has been closed for her son; so, he has had to stay with his grandparents. Regina and her son have only been able to see one another on her days off. Even then, she had to get a weekly coronavirus test in advance and let her family know whether it was safe for her to visit. Each week this caused a sense of anxiety about whether she may have contracted the virus from her job, and she was constantly double checking the position and integrity of her personal protective equipment (PPE). “I didn’t want to bring home any of the awfulness,”
Regina only saw her son once or twice a week for 5 weeks.
Regina said; so, for five weeks, she only saw her son once or twice a week. Healthcare workers who have been working on the front lines during this pandemic not only risk getting sick themselves, they also often have to cope with being apart from their family and loved ones. Regina was grateful to have access to testing, which allowed her to see her son at least once a week.
PPE Shortage “Was a Debacle”
While being apart from her son has been super sad, adjusting to online learning very challenging, and risking viral contraction at her job nerve-racking, Regina found the nationwide shortage of PPE to be a particularly infuriating aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was a debacle. There were days when I would get to our unit and there were no isolation gowns
“It was a debacle. There were days when I would get to our unit and there were no isolation gowns,” Regina described. She felt incredulous that she would need to reuse isolation gowns from the previous night. She wondered how both the federal and state governments could allow this to happen to nurses and other frontline workers. At the start of the pandemic in the U.S., March of 2020, national stockpiles were recorded as roughly 12 million masks — that represented less than 1% of what the Health and Human Services (HHS) agency predicted would be needed in the U.S. for the duration of the pandemic. The lack of supplies continued and on May 3rd Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York along with six other states entered into a consortium to bid for supplies collectively. While Regina felt fortunate that her hospital did not need to use trash bags for gowns like other hospitals around the country, she reported needing to use one N95 mask for an entire week. “We’re only supposed to wear [one N95 mask] per each patient; I was appalled, but at least I had a mask,” she exclaimed with some exacerbation. N95 masks are also only supposed to be worn up to 8-12 hours. Still, some nurses around the country have reported resorting to makeshift ways to try, without proof, to protect themselves from COVID-19 with items like bandanas without filters as masks and, as Regina noted, trash bags as gowns.
Creative Community Connections: Adopt a Nurse
Although living with Coronavirus has been a struggle, Regina has had some positivity within her community who support her. When she volunteered for the COVID-19 surge unit, there was a listserv she found asking if she wanted to be “adopted.” A nurse from Long Island named Kristen put together a Facebook page matching people who wanted to give back and support frontline workers with nurses in Manhattan. Regina thought “why not.” “Someone adopted me; they sent me masks, toys for my kid, and snacks. [My assigned partner] texted and I was so touched because someone actually wanted to help, not out of recognition, really just altruistically. That really lifted my spirits and made my year,” she said. All you need to do is complete a google doc questionnaire and then wait to be paired up.3 This program is a way for community members to show their support and express gratitude during this trying time.
Regina continues her work full time at the hospital and is taking summer classes online. Thankfully, she has not fallen sick; we’re grateful that she has graciously shared her story.
Reported & Written by Katarina Ho; Edited by Dr. Jacki Hart