Thursday 28 May, 2020

Jamaican nurse in Florida details frightening COVID-19 experience

iStock photo

iStock photo

With 47 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Jamaica, the country’s healthcare workers have to date not been overwhelmed by patients with the deadly respiratory disease.

However, many Jamaican nurses and doctors are on the frontlines of the coronavirus battle in other countries including several European countries and our neighbours to the north, the United States, which has the most COVID-19 infections in the world.

One of those nurses is expressing concerns and outright fears to Loop News.

Marsha Johnston* is a registered nurse in a private hospital in Florida. She has been living in the United States for 20 years. She told Loop News she had her most frightening day on the job on Monday, March 30.

Johnston said it was a particularly stressful day as she had three suspected COVID-19 patients, a situation that forced her to wear the best protective gear for most of that day. This includes a fitted N-95 mask and a face shield. She explained, while it offers the best protection against respiratory viruses, the N-95 mask can make breathing difficult and is not recommended for all-day use.

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 “It can get hot and quite sweaty rather quickly,” Johnston told Loop News.

“I went through about eight masks and quite a few gloves as I had three patients that we were trying to rule out COVID-19. You have to be careful so it’s time consuming,” she explained.

She said her stress levels mounted when she got another patient who died just two hours after she had received him. He had heart failure and was in isolation for three weeks and, to the best of her knowledge, did not have COVID-19. As such, while seeing this patient, Johnston was not wearing an N-95 mask or face shield.

However, as soon as the patient died, Johnston said she heard the dreaded words ‘protective code’ blasted over the hospital’s intercom.

“I literally freaked out when I heard this because the report on the patient did not state ‘protective code’. When you see the words protective code it means COVID,” the registered nurse said.

She explained further that the hospital’s management had taken a decision to use the words ‘protective code’ for all isolated patients until COVID-19 is ruled out. The hospital has also made it mandatory for all staff to wear masks at all times while at work.

“I didn’t realise that a decision was taken to treat all isolated patients as a protective code, so when I heard the words I freaked out, I had a panic attack. They had to remove me from the floor for a while and calm me down.

“I was terrified when everybody ran into the room shouting ‘if you not in protective gear, get out, get out!’

“It was just sheer confusion in the room and I was like, ‘what the heck’, why wasn’t I informed before I possibly exposed myself,” Johnston shared of her frightening experience which highlights how terrified healthcare workers are of the virus that originated in Wuhan, China in late December, 2019.

COVID-19 has now infected over one million people across the globe and has killed nearly 53,000. The United States leads the world with the number of cases with just over 240,000 confirmed infections and 5,800 deaths. New York has more than 92,000 cases and more than 2,300 deaths while Florida has registered roughly 8,000 confirmed cases. Jamaica has three deaths among its 44 confirmed cases.

For Johnston, who has resided in Florida since she migrated to the United States, words cannot adequately describe working in a hospital during COVID-19.

“It’s pure confusion and anxiety now,” she stated.

About Monday’s experience, she said: “It was very traumatic for me, I was hyperventilating”. Johnston said it took a cup of tea and wet towels applied to her forehead by her colleagues to help calm her down.

Despite the scare and the fact that she could expose both herself and her family to the coronavirus, Johnston said it is what she signed up for. She was back on the job the next day and has acknowledged that, in the days and weeks ahead, she will have some good days and some not so good days.

“Today (Tuesday) I had three (suspect) COVID-19 patients and I knew I was going to get them so I was prepared and I did my thing with confidence, with my protective gear. I expect to get days like those and I expect to get some days when I will most likely freak out and some when the anxiety reach up there and some days when the stress level reach up there and I’m going to get some in between days," she said.

*Name has been changed upon request

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