One Morning as an ICU Nurse on a Covid-19 Unit
Being a nurse is my calling — all parts of it at all times
4 a.m. — I haven’t even tried to go to sleep tonight. Why? Fear I guess, fear of being late specifically. I have to leave my house at 5:15 a.m. in order to get to work on time. I have to clock in by 6:45. I don’t need over an hour to drive the 35 miles to work but I still need to get there early. There are a few extra procedural steps these days between arriving at work and beginning to care for patients. For now, I’m eating a bowl of oatmeal, something to hold me and the baby I’m carrying over until I get a second breakfast from the cafeteria around 9 once I’m at work. There’s always the chance that something will come up and I’ll miss the cafeteria hours, so going in with an empty stomach is a risky game.
6 a.m. — After parking, I’ll walk across a bridge that goes over a major street in downtown Atlanta. I like walking across the bridge. I practice taking deep breaths; these are my last few moments of peace before the inevitable chaos ensues.
It takes about seven minutes to arrive at the threshold of my hospital, but before I can enter they will screen me for symptoms of a respiratory infection and check my temperature. So long as it’s less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a sticker with today’s date will be placed on my badge, giving me the okay to enter the building for the day.
I travel down the meandering hallways that are just now becoming familiar to me until I arrive at my unit. All the signs say neuro-ICU. I was hired as a neuro-ICU nurse just over a month ago. That has been my specialty for eight years now.
Arrows point visitors in various directions toward bathrooms, waiting rooms, and cafeterias. But there are no visitors and this is no neuro-ICU. The hospital is on lockdown due to the Covid-19 virus and the unit has been transformed into a dedicated Covid unit. It’s officially being referred to as the “Special Pathogens Unit.”
Before I can enter the double doors to my unit I sign out a pair of surgical scrubs, an N95 mask, goggles, and a brown paper bag to store the mask in for reuse. I wait my turn and then squeeze into a tiny bathroom the size of a closet to change into my scrubs. I’ll turn them in when the day…