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Inside a COVID-19 ICU: From the Lens of a New York City Nurse

“What is your name? Do you know where you are?”

The rhythmic alarm from the monitors becomes louder as you open your eyes. Your heartbeat intensifies. The blurry room becomes clearer as you struggle to blink your eyes. You hear another humming sound — like a machine breathing in and out. A blaringly loud alarm sounds as you cough. Someone rushes in and quickly says something you can’t make out. You’re drowning. You feel fluid fill your lungs. Air is sucked out of you by a plastic wand. There is some relief when you can breathe again, but soon after, panic sets in. You realize there is a tube down your throat. You try to move your arms to remove it but are gripped by a cloth and rope tied to the bed. You finally hear the figure in front of you ask, “What is your name? Do you know where you are?”

Thousands of Americans have shared a similar experience since the COVID-19 outbreak. Despite the state of the art biomedical devices and ventilators, the innovative drug trials, and the quality care and technical procedures the medical staff provides, it does not change how little we know about COVID-19. We have been dealing with this pandemic since March 2020 and although there has been slight improvement in our knowledge about the disease, we still have a long way to go. Thus, we must look for patterns.

What is causing patients to die from this virus? We identified a few factors that increased a patient’s mortality rate: old age, hypertension, and diabetes. However, there are still quite a few relatively young people dying with little to no comorbidities.

Kious Kelly was one of the first New York City nurses to be “claimed by the virus”. Although he had a history of asthma, Kelly was an otherwise healthy 48-year-old who worked at Mt. Sinai on the front lines of the pandemic. Nurses were outraged that Mt. Sinai, like many other inner-city hospitals, was not provided with the appropriate quantity or quality of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Mt. Sinai is ranked the third best hospital in New York. This begs one to ask the question: How are underdeveloped countries surviving and sustaining if New York, during the first wave, could barely keep its head above the water?

Limited resources aside, an additional barrier for countries facing COVID-19 is the environment. Poor air quality places people at a higher risk for developing asthma. If one were to look at the statistics on Bangladesh’s air quality, the results found can be evidently grim.

Simply living in a country with a polluted environment places the population at a higher risk for a comorbidity which can worsen peoples’ outcome if they were to contract the virus. The disparities in resources and circumstances are significant when one compares Bangladesh to a more developed country such as the United States.

As a nurse, I cannot stress enough the importance of hand-washing to prevent the spread of this virus. But how can one have wide-spread competence when as stated by Water.org, “more than 2 million people in Bangladesh lack access to an improved water source and 48 million lack improved sanitation?”

Considering such impediments, it will be difficult for Bangladesh to both treat and contain the virus. However, there are steps that can be taken to lessen the impact of COVID-19. Practices such as wearing a face covering and social distancing are remarkably effective.

The more people comply with these preventative measures, the closer we can get to putting an end to this deadly virus.

Angela Vilasi is a critical care nurse and has worked at New York Presbyterian’s Burn Unit for nearly four years. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from New York University. Vilasi continues to take care of both burn and COVID-19 positive patients in critical condition.

The article solely represents Angela Vilasi’s views and has no affiliation with New York Presbyterian.

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