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What It’s Like Working on a Covid-19 Hospital Floor

A nurse at a major NYC hospital shares her experience

Katie Couric
Mar 26 · 4 min read
Photo: Getty Images.

I’ve been interviewing experts and health care professionals almost every night on Instagram Live. A recent interviewee: Kelsey, a nurse at a major hospital in New York City. (We’re not sharing its name.) Kelsey just celebrated her first year working as a nurse. Now, she’s on the front-line of the coronavirus pandemic, working on her hospital’s infectious disease floor — now completely full of Covid-19 positive patients. Here, some of the most powerful things Kelsey told me during our interview.

On whether her hospital has enough ventilators:

“We need more vents. That’s all I can say. There aren’t enough for the number of people we need to intubate.”

On the average age of the patients she’s treating:

“I’ve seen patients from age 27 to 89 on my unit. A lot of them are between 30 and 50. Unfortunately these people are just as sick as the older patients… I thought that if [someone my age] got it, we’d be fine, our bodies could fight it. But it really is survival of the fittest. There are people coming in and they have no health concerns whatsoever, and their oxygen stats drop lower and lower, and it happens fast.”

On communicating with patients’ family members:

“I have to stop and talk with family members. By law, I can’t state how a patient is doing medically — I have to get a doctor on the phone, and they’re always doing something else. So when patients are being intubated, their family members don’t know it. The patient knows it, but their family members don’t.

We had a patient who was being intubated; he knew he was going to the ICU. He called his wife, and said ‘I’m going to the ICU, I love you, it’s going to be ok.’ And then his wife called us to ask if he seemed scared, and the nurse said ‘No, he looks fine.’ Because the patient asked us not to tell his wife that he was terrified. It was written all over his face.”

On whether her hospital has enough beds:

“We have some people who are being discharged with fevers, because we can’t give the royal treatment. Usually we make sure a patient is 100% okay before we send them home, but once we make sure a person’s oxygen levels are okay, they are okay to be discharged… We have to be discharging patients to make room for new people.”

On whether she has proper equipment to keep her safe:

“No. It’s scary to go to work and have one mask that I wear for the whole day. It’s called an N95, and it has a filter. So I have to wear that all day, and then we wear a droplet mask on top of that, because technically if it’s covered, the N95 is good for up to a week. There’s not enough evidence to show that these things can last for a week. But I use the N95, the droplet, and I wear goggles.

Normally, those items are waiting for you right outside of a patient’s room. Now if I want a mask, I have to go into a locked closet, and get one and use it for the entire day. Since [my unit] is 100% Covid, they’re saying you can use the same mask for multiple patients. And that’s scary. In nursing school, you’re taught to do something, and that’s being thrown out the window because we don’t have the equipment we need.”

On whether she feels emotionally supported:

“We have debriefing rooms where we can go in and talk to people about what’s going on. My staff is incredible; my manager is amazing. We are in continuous contact. I’m on a group message with the night shift nurses. We’re learning to live with the new normal that we have at work now. Before we could laugh and joke and even dance with patients, but now everyone’s super sick. Emotionally, when this is all over, I’m not going to be ok.”

On why people need to stay home:

“As of now, I don’t feel safe going to work — and I know I speak for every nurse… People need to stay home. I’m from Florida and I see people now that are on their boats, that are at the beach, and it’s not safe. You’re staying home for the future. In two weeks, you could be like New York City. That’s scary. I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s not [made up by] the media, it’s real. And it’s heartbreaking.”

For more live interviews, follow my Instagram.

This appeared in the Wake-Up Call newsletter. Subscribe here.

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Katie Couric

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Founder, Katie Couric Media. Newscaster: Wake-Up Call. Podcaster: Next Question. Doc filmmaker. @SU2C founder.

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