Mental Health

Coronavirus: From a Nurse on the Frontline

From a Frontline Healthcare Worker

It first hit me on a routine shopping trip to a superstore. I strolled through the aisle where toilet paper is usually housed and found the shelves bare. Perplexed and in disbelief, I went around to the other aisle and then made my way down the toilet paper aisle again. In its place hung a sign that reported the item was out of stock and an apology for the inconvenience.

Out of curiosity, I surveyed the cleaning aisle for disinfectant wipes and then the medical aisle for rubbing alcohol. Again, nothing. Talking with a friend about it later in the week, they reported the same results at their stores and pharmacies in another city. Upon scanning social media, it seemed to be a common phenomenon to find these supplies out of stock. 

The first I heard of coronavirus was actually through a meme being circulated on social media. My nurse friends and I laughed about it, and no one seemed to be taking it too seriously. Next came the explosion of news reports and articles about the virus, who was contracting it, and what the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization knew.

The first case of the novel coronavirus, also called COVID19 or 2019-nCoV, was reported in December 31, 2019, in Wuhan China, and the virus has since then been detected in more than 100 countries, including the United States. For more information about the illness, how it is spread, symptoms to watch out for, and precautions to take, please refer to this informative summary from the CDC.

The constant news updates from the US and overseas are alarming, and fear is a natural response. As humans, we tend to self-protect, and can easily become fearful and think only of ourselves. There has to be a middle ground between reacting hysterically and fearfully, or on the other end of the spectrum, downplaying the seriousness and refusing to take safety measures to protect ourselves and others.

It’s a challenging time to be a healthcare worker right now. As a nurse on the front lines, I never thought I would witness a pandemic, but it’s unfolding all around us. I’ll admit that I’m uneasy about what the future will hold and what I’ll have to face while working in the emergency room during this time. This will test us all as individuals and also the healthcare system as a whole in our country. Hospitals are hastening to enact protective measures and exercise utmost caution.

We simply don’t know what the full extent of its impact will be yet, which is why we need to be prepared and take steps to ensure the safety of ourselves and others. For the younger population who seems to be least affected, practice precautions for the sake of more vulnerable populations. The elderly, immunocompromised, and people with comorbidities are usually the most affected by outbreaks, and statistics show that they are most at risk of dying of coronavirus.

Additionally, those of us who work on the front lines are at increased risk of getting infected since we will be the first of the healthcare team who come in contact with it and likely have the least amount of information about the patients.

Here are some practical things you can do to reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus and reduce the risk of spreading it if you get sick: 

  1. Wash your hands, frequently. The CDC recommends scrubbing your hands with soap and water for 20-30 seconds.
  2. If you have to sneeze or cough, do so away from others and into the crook of your arm, not your hands.
  3. Practice social distancing by avoiding large groups of people and unnecessary contact at this time. 
  4. Avoid visiting others at the hospital unless it is an excruciating circumstance, and reserve use of the emergency room for when you require immediate medical attention. If you’re not sure whether you should go to the emergency room or an urgent care, you can call a nurse triage line or refer to your local hospital guidelines. 
  5. Take care of your mental health. This is an anxious time for many people, and it’s okay to feel scared. Try to remain calm and find comfort in activities that will help you relax. Focus on what you can do to make a difference, not what is out of your control. 
  6. Please, please don’t take masks or gloves or hand sanitizer from the hospitals. We healthcare workers need it in order to provide safe care and protect ourselves from the exposure we face everyday.
  7. Finally, check in on those in need. If you know elderly people who might not be able to get groceries or other supplies, ask them if you can pick anything up for them. Check in with your local hospitals and charities to see if there are ways you can help others. Some things you might be able to do include delivering meals to the homebound with Meals on Wheels, donating to your local food bank, donating blood, and supporting local businesses.

The best way to weather times of hardship is by supporting each other, being kind, using caution, and taking care of the vulnerable. It’s easy to become frightened and panic in the face of uncertainty.

I personally witnessed that fear and unease while shopping at the grocery store and seeing everyone else’s reactions. The thoughts that crossed my mind included how much toilet paper I should purchase and whether I should buy freeze-dried food that could be prepared in the wilderness in the chance that I got to practice living in the wild.

It sounds ridiculous writing it out, but the mind can go to unreasonable places when it hits survival mode. Hysteria is unnecessary at best and dangerous at worst. In its place, we should seek to be guided by prudence, caution and peaceability. 

Resources used in this article:  

  1. The Center for Disease Control on Handwashing https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/hand/handwashing.html#:~:text=
  2. CDC on Coronavirus https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
  3. When to go to the emergency room https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000593.htm
by Christy Wornom

Christy is an ER nurse, writer, graphic designer, and outdoor enthusiast who is passionate about social justice, healthcare reform, and a well-brewed cup of coffee.


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