A scroll through hospitals across the U.S.
CAUTION: The social media posts shared this article are graphic, disturbing, and what every American needs to know right now. Consider this your trigger warning.
COVID-19 unit nurse Lauren Leander made headline news when she stood with her peers in a silent protest on Monday, April 20th. Dressed in scrubs and donning masks, they faced a crowd at the Arizona state capitol, where they were accused of being fake healthcare workers sent to embellish what “Patriot’s Day Rally” protesters claimed to be a pandemic hoax.
After the event, the healthcare workers faced more criticism on Twitter, where they were labeled as #Propaganda by an Arizona state senator.
In response, nurse Leander told CNN “I wish she could be in my shoes for a day, I’d have her put on a pair of scrubs and walk with me.”
As someone who is on social media for their full-time job, it got me thinking about the posts I’ve seen from nurses and healthcare workers since COVID-19 hit the US. What you may not know is that nurses have a significant presence on Instagram in particular. Some are even influencers for chic scrub brands and healthcare worker accessories.
It’s here that nurses are leveraging their clout to show what it’s like to walk in their PPE (or lack thereof). In between grueling marathon shifts, they write captions and share photos, sharing the difficult decisions they make behind hospital doors and the personal struggles they face.
Posts like the one below were an early part of a wave of calls from the healthcare community. The message is simple—stay home and be patient so we can take care of patients—and be ready to save your life.
Since that, apparently, was not a clear enough message for some, the online education continues.
Here are some of the nurses telling the true story of what it’s like to be on the frontlines of hospitals right now.
Some captions have been lightly edited.
They Didn’t Do It for the ‘Gram
Brookly ICU RN Emmy summarizes the grim reality of supply shortages and the lack of effective treatment options for COVID-19.
“Our ICU has expanded to other units for some time now. We are floating to these units and orienting ourselves. These new units are not exactly safe and suitable for ICU patients, but we have to make it work. While working in these open units, we are constantly wearing our PPEs. Personally, the masks are uncomfortable but we need to protect ourselves. Pharmacy is not always nearby so we need to prioritize and order what we need. There is a shortage on certain medications so the team has to choose other medications to give. Our supplies are low so we need to be considerate and not waste them. Most of these patients are on ventilators for a long period of time. Progress is slow and they need the time to heal. Some just don’t get better no matter what interventions we try. Sometimes at the end of it all, we are just pushing medications to keep them alive on the monitor.”
A Behavioral Unit nurse shares thoughts on long shifts, public perception, and motivation.
“Came home at 8 am after a 16hours double double to get back at 1pm. EXHAUSTED!
I’m pretty sure that people do not realize the magnitude of how serious [of a situation] we are going through. We are experiencing a pandemic. Meaning this is a global outbreak. We are not curing we are containing.
So stay home and stay healthy. I’m not gonna lie I wish I can be home relaxing. But we got to do what we got to do. It’s not about convenience, it’s about doing what you got to do.
It’s all about making it to the finish line as a collective.”
RN Sarah goes into detail about how her hospital is managing PPE shortages in her COVID-19 unit.
“One gown per shift to use between each patient. All are either Positive or PUI. The only situation where you’d be allowed a separate gown is if you have a COVID patient that also has CDIFF.
One N95 a shift, you have the choice to keep it on all shift if possible. That N95 will be reused for three shifts, keep it in a paper bag if you take it off. Write your name on it & don’t forget to put your paper bag in the bin to be sterilized when you’re done. We have one surgical mask until it is visibly soiled or broken. We are given surgical scrubs to change into before we come to the unit. We are to wear goggles in every room.”
In a later post, she shares what the questionable sterilization process of masks is like and shows the inside of her N95 mask which she was required to wear for four shifts, adding “I am never going to be silent about this.”
Marissa, RN, BSN, CCRN, PHN from Phoenix, Arizona reflects on complex layers of thoughts, end-of-life questions, and the calling to be a nurse.
“…this pandemic had such opportunity to empower nurses, collaborate, heal.. but instead we are drowning…each day comes with less support & more responsibility. The safety & security we had yesterday is gone the next day. We have no legal support to back us up as we continue to lose our rights as a nurse, as a human. We can’t escape the misery.
We go 13 hours at a time sweating in places we’ve never sweat before from the gowns & stale OR scrubs… faces & ears aching from the suffocating masks. Then we go & care for people who are dying alone because there are no visitors allowed. The emotional burden truly rips at the caring heart of every nurse.
And if we’re lucky enough to get a break from it all, we’re scared to eat lunch in such a contaminated workspace, for fear of dying amongst the lifeless bodies surrounding us. How ironic that would be. And that’s all you think about. All shift.
When am I gonna get it.
My coworkers know my code status right?
Will I be the cause of my husband’s death?
We haven’t even hit our peak yet but we’re told it’s coming. How envious we are of those “bored” people that are forced to have to work from home. But we continue to go to work because we have to. Deep down we want to.
We want to help. It’s our calling. And I know that as nurses, nationally.. globally… we will never stop doing what we are called to do. And we will die trying.”
Nurses Still Promote Hope
Nurse Colleen RN, BSN remains positive despite the stress of COVID-19 unit workload and challenges.
“It’s tough work for one patient, two makes you feel like your failing and 3+ is near impossible.
I feel like I’m failing, I’m trying really hard and it’s still not good enough! Yes, it seems the curve is flattening in Massachusetts but the patients in the hospital are VERY VERY SICK.
I’m tired, I’m reusing ‘sterilized old N95s’ that weren’t molded to my own face. But mainly I’m just sad for these patients that don’t get to decide their own path. That die without saying goodbye to their family. I knew this was coming but I don’t think anything compares to being in the middle of it.
Sending love to everyone on the frontlines, this is temporary! 💕”
Maddi Ward, BSN, RN reminds us:
“Whether you’re working directly with COVID patients, working hard from home, being the foundation for your family, homeschooling your kids, or simply do the best and washing your hands — remember to stick together. Let’s build each other up, love on one another (through social distancing of course), share your toilet paper, stay educated, and BE AWESOME TO ONE ANOTHER💛”
Spread Facts, Not Corona
Since they have close contact with patients, nurses have a unique position that allows them to educate the public. Social media makes it even easier for them to spread accessible information.
Unfortunately, this means it’s also easier than ever for conspiracy theorists and lockdown protesters to spread misinformation. Although Instagram and other social media platforms are actively working to remove posts containing false statements about COVID-19, it’s vital that the public is vigilant about questioning the authority of anything that sounds too good to be true.
The fact is that although testing exists, it hasn’t yet been implemented on the level needed to safely make significant changes to our behavior as a society in the United States.
If you want some real insight into what’s going on in hospitals in your area, follow hashtags like #(your city or state)nurses and #(your city or state)nurse. While you’re there, take the time to leave a comment and #thankanurse.
This article may be updated with additional posts as more information unfolds. Want to nominate a nurses’ post or story? Drop the link in the comments.
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