Calm Before the Storm

Unprecedented has to be my least favorite word these days. It feels like every news report (over)uses that word. Basically, what I’m hearing is that no one – not our government, the CDC, our hospital administrators – really knows what to do and is figuring it out on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute basis. I was hoping was that, at the very least, our elected officials had an emergency plan in place. Makes sense, right? There has been sufficient warning by epidemiologists in the past about possible global pandemics. When I am in a procedure, I have a plan for emergencies like a cardiac arrest, excessive loss of blood, etc. The likelihood in most cases is low, but I am always ready. Why aren’t our elected officials held to the same standard when their decisions affect the lives of many?

I am frustrated and frightened by the whole situation….but I press on.

Over the last week, I have tried to stay as updated as possible by trying to find reliable sources about the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19, the challenges shared by frontline healthcare workers all over the world, and the developing situation in my home city. Needless to say, it is difficult and completely overwhelming. And !@#$-ing scary.

The first time I heard about COVID-19 in a work e-mail was in late February. At that time, no alarms were going off. It felt more like a head’s up than a warning. Then information went from a slow trickle to a continuous flow. Currently, e-mails are packed with paragraph after paragraph of what the hospital is doing, what the city is doing, what we should do in various scenarios, what numbers to call, etc. All this makes my head spin. Ugh. How am I managing all this information? I created a COVID-19 folder in my work account just so that I could track the updates and make sure I know what’s what.

Needless to say, there has been confusion, anger, and anxiety among my fellow staff members in the OR. Totally understandable. We are accustomed to knowing what to do, even when a trauma comes in. We are used to seeing the worst of the worst. We are at a Level I Trauma and Research Center on the south side of Chicago, for Pete’s sake! Our preparation for COVID-19 was nothing like our Trauma Readiness Training two years ago. The hospital was all over it. But now? Why is this different?

Go ahead… Say it… UNPRECEDENTED.

So there have been a lot of What If discussions floating around the unit. Personally, I try not to participate. It is not helpful unless the What If’s are followed by a plan. I want to hear a plan.

Can someone PLEASE give us a plan???

Last Tuesday, St. Patrick’s Day, was the first day of the cancellation of elective surgeries. Our whole Ambulatory Surgery OR was shut down and the staff sent home on Low Census with a possible re-open date of April 15th. It was a shock that rippled through every OR (and we have 3 different OR units – Adult, Pediatrics, and Ambulatory). So many question followed… I still have questions.

The cancellation of elective surgeries also impacted the Adult OR (the Main OR) where I work. It has slowed down so much, that adjustments have been made to our schedules to low census some of us on different days. Still, we are “on reserve.” All of us in the OR know that it is just a matter of time before there is a need to float us to other areas of the hospital. Already some of our surgical techs have been asked to go to the units to monitor providers while they don and doff (put on and take off) Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Instead of sending us home, why don’t they set up training for other possible roles? Why aren’t they taking inventory of skills? They should be asking the OR Nurses who have experience in the ER, ICU, or MedSurg Floor. Unfortunately, I have no such skills, but I am willing to learn. How about organizational and management skills? Isn’t that good for crisis management? I’m just wondering…

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