BRISTOL – Trying to tell a mother her son may not survive covid-19 is one of the hardest experiences Randi Schiavi, an Intensive Care Unit nurse at Bristol Health, has had to deal with.
“How do you tell a parent that she may never see her child again? That feeling stays with you and it wears on you in a way that no words can describe,” she said.
In this case, the child survived. But they were one of the fortunate ones.
Since the covid-19 pandemic started in March, Bristol Health has had over 260 covid-19 admissions and 35 deaths. The numbers continue to climb while the hospital’s roughly 1,700 workers continue to pull shift after shift to meet the community’s needs.
Schiavi starts her day at 5:30 in the morning, grabbing the biggest coffee she can find and meeting with colleagues on the duties of the day.
“There is no good way to itemize a day in the ICU because there is no average day there,” she said. “Especially with covid-19; it made everything much more challenging than before.”
While nurses have always had to deal with stress on the job, the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem, and things got worse as a second wave continues to push through the state. The process just to enter a patient’s rooms and isolated covid-19 areas has also become more time consuming. All workers are required to be in full personal protective gear, and it takes more time to don a gown and put N95 masks on. All this is done while being on the front lines dealing with patients and trying to figure out how the virus is spreading at the same time.
“No one was prepared to navigate through a pandemic. We all depend on each other for support and guidance,” said Schiavi, who turns to more seasoned nurses for advice.
The ICU’s covid-19 patients ebb and flow, but nurses take care of people regardless of the elements. “It’s not easy and it’s isolating for us, too. But we do what we have to do,” she said.
Jamie Caruso, a registered nurse who works on the floor, agreed, and said the challenges were more demanding when the pandemic first hit. Now after nearly a year, she said they’re finally getting into a routine and structure on how to care for patients.
“It’s still very stressful and draining,” she said. “While some cases are more manageable, it’s still challenging when you have to tell families that they can’t see their loved ones because of visiting policies or when you’re working with a patient who is confused with the situation.”
Bringing in iPads for families to communicate with each other is a good thing. But it becomes difficult when the device is used for them to say goodbye.
“That really leaves something on you, when families rely on you for answers that you don’t have. That’s really hard,” Caruso said.
A moment that will stay with Schiavi forever was taking care of a patient who didn’t believe in covid-19 or vaccinations.
“I’ll always remember the patient coming in with covid-19 and becoming extremely sick,” she said. “He was on a ventilator for weeks and we didn’t think he was going to make it. He told me he was so scared of covid-19. He would look at me and say that, and I would hold his hand. It was unbelievable to see someone’s opinion change like that. I wish I can tell people how real this is. It’s also difficult to separate that thought when you know the patient didn’t believe that the pandemic is real, and yet here we are. I will never forget that.”
It is a big collective responsibility for nurses to care for the patients and each other. For Kristin Dirga, a hospice director and clinical coordinator, it is important for people to remember patients aren’t the only people in isolation.
“Nurses can no longer take breaks and decompress together because everyone has to be spread out in the breakrooms. That isolates us too,” she said, stating that with how exhausting a day in the life of a nurse is, she hopes they don’t get discouraged by their experience.
“These are the pieces that people aren’t aware of. We can’t give them the breaks that they need to rejuvenate themselves and everyone is in overdrive,” Dirga said. “Nurses tend to be very nurturing and caring. We’re always looking for ways to help our patients but it’s important to remember that nurses need care, too.”