What really went down up there…

I have started and restarted this journal entry, more times then I can count now. It always starts off one way, then gradually becomes something entirely different. And I generally avoid writing about my job. There’s zero point and 90% of the time…unless you live it…you won’t get it. I’m not even sure how to verbalize the whole scenario or put it into words. Maybe there are simply no adjectives for what really went down up there.

They called in a head shrinker for the staff. And while that’s all well and good…how do you describe something…for which no words exist? Handing me a piece of paper with tiny child like drawings on it and asking me to circle the emotion or emotions? Are you kidding me right now?

How did it feel?

I mean I could find a thesaurus throw a few words out there

..sad

…poignant

…love

…anger

…fear

…confusion

…coping

…strength

Oh hell…..maybe the words organized chaos….or disorganized madness….depending on the moment. And I do mean…down to the very second. Things were constantly changing…every hour…every minute…every second.

Covid hit our facility in December, approximately ten days before the vaccine was released. That’s just stupid bad luck right? I mean what are the odds? We felt like failures when covid got in. To this day, we have no idea how it got in. Non essential appointments were canceled. But emergencies were not. Signs of a stroke…off to the hospital….signs of a heart attack….off to the hospital…right when the county went purple. So they had to be treated at hospitals that were now… loaded with covid. Then they of course came back once treated for whatever the emergency was. We’d put them in the Q. Our quarantine hall. The problem was, the tests were not always 100% accurate. Those are just facts.

They were safe for nine months. NINE MONTHS…all they had to do was not see their families or friends for nine months and they wouldn’t get Covid according to the CDC. Seems like a simple task in theory…but these people really couldn’t spare nine months. Let’s be real. When you’re 65-105 years old, with CHF, cancer, diabetes, etc…nine months is an awfully long time to not see your children. And in truth…NOBODY…not the government, the CDC, the WHO….NONE OF THEM…seemed to actually have any idea what was going on or what the outcome would be.

Our facility was luckier then most in terms of virus treatment and staffing. And our administration didn’t pack up and work from home, like a lot of other places did. Ours stayed there. They didn’t tuck tail and run. Every single day they were in the building and on the floor. The conference room essentially turned into a mini apartment for the higher ups. And when Covid hit…they were right there with those of us on that unit. Constantly asking what we needed or how they could help. They were well stocked on PPE and everything else. Back in March 2020, they’d called other nursing homes that had been hit, just to learn what they could do to prevent the spread in our facility once it arrived. They were constantly having meetings and conferences. They were helping us on the floor when the staff finally started to go down one by one with covid. I appreciated that more then they could ever comprehend. Things were so nerve wracking, that had they left…morale would have seriously declined.

(I mean if healthcare administration went home to work on laptops in the safety of their own homes away from covid, while their staff stayed and toughed it out…well… I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if they lost staff as a result due to the fear they were in-sighting by leaving. But that’s just my useless opinion. What do I know?)

But…back on topic…oh yeah…the head shrinker. What’s weird is that in the moment….emotions were lacking or maybe that’s not the right words. Emotions were there, but there was no real time to focus on any one feeling. We were RUNNING! When covid hit…it hit fast. Three became six…six became ten…ten became twenty…twenty became thirty…all within a matter of days. If four left the unit, six took their place. It almost became ridiculous to even ask ..”did anyone else come up last night?”….We stopped asking after we put up the white board. We had three categories : Current, Graduated and Deceased. Believe me when I tell you….that board is still etched in my brain two months past. That board was both a blessing and a curse.

We’d all known these people for YEARS. And with families shut out, one side effect of that was….we got attached (even more then usual). We were attached before…but this was different. I’ll explain. In the past…pre-covid, when someone was dying…the lines were very easy to follow. We would make them comfortable and when family arrived, we left the room. We left the room to give them that moment… That final moment with their family. It was theirs and theirs alone. Private and sacred. We, the staff had our moments too of course. We would hug in the break-room or cry it out in our own little corner somewhere.

But covid came along and changed everything.

It became us…the staff. And what should have been a purposely forced unattached moment on our end….in order to not undermine or undercut a family members grief…became a hallway of pure empathy that we couldn’t shut off. Not sympathy…but empathy. Meaning…it wasn’t sympathetic viewing from the outside looking in, but something entirely different. We felt a profound loss with every death. Born out of nine months of isolation and attachment.

Overnight…in March of 2020…the world shut down and families were locked out. In an effort to stave off the residents depression…the golden rule of don’t get too attached….went out the window. Hugs, tears, smiles, laughter, joy, sadness…fear, worry, grief…everything became ours to deal with. And where do you put that? What box? Not to mention…oh…yeah…you might get covid and take it home to your family….that in the face of the media screaming on a DAILY basis…“omg…your all gonna die if you don’t stay home…. “ oh but wait….we can’t. I stripped my scrubs off in the garage and they went immediately into my washer in the utility room. My shoes were washed constantly! I went through three pairs of Sketchers in two months. Nobody was allowed to use my car under any circumstance. (And…Yes…I got covid within the first two weeks of it entering the building. Then I lived in my basement drowning my sorrows in Netflix and praying to God that I didn’t just kill my family. Fortunately, they stayed negative).

Anyway, the biggest misconception we all had…was what covid actually is. The reports were mostly focused on pneumonia. Yeah…no. Pneumonia is just one scale on the beast. Diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, fevers, sores, confusion, hallucinations, edema, kidney failure, massive changes in blood sugar levels, clotting, bleeding, pain…so much pain. On that note…for all the jerks who liked to write the comment : “they were old or dying anyway”….whenever they posted under an article on elderly at risk from covid.. NOT LIKE THAT THEY WEREN’T!

This thing took stage 1 or 2 dementia and kicked it into overdrive. Within ten days they went from walking and talking to forgetting how to walk, forgetting how to hold a spoon and eventually forgetting how to swallow. Covid crossed through the protective membrane and went to straight to the brain.

Those who didn’t have dementia, suffered even more. They’d been watching the news for months. They’d seen all the headlines about nursing home statistics and survivability during covid. Thanks a lot media. You successfully scared the hell out of little old ladies everywhere. Stellar job! They have televisions in their rooms you morons. Do you have any idea what it’s like to have someone clutching onto you for dear life…asking if they’re going to die?

And then I made a mistake. I’m utterly haunted by it on the daily. There was one…one that we all knew well and loved dearly. I tried to avoid the question. I changed the subject. And that worked…until Christmas morning. I had slept at work Christmas Eve. My daughter was home from college. She’s a third year pharm/med student. We needed the help and she came up on the covid unit. She worked third and I worked first. That night we had a severe snow storm coming. To save myself the worry of her driving on ice, I went home on Christmas Eve for four hours, then drove her back to the facility for third shift and I slept in the office on the covid unit. Then I flipped back up and traded her. On Christmas morning, this particular resident…asked me again and again…”Am I going to die?”….I finally just said…no….because saying I don’t know…had zero effect on her nerves. And nine months in to the pandemic, they had a better idea of how to treat it. Honestly, she looked ok that day. We sang Christmas carols, talked about her family, gave lots of hugs and told absolutely ridiculous jokes. Everything seemed ok.

Then it wasn’t.

I am a liar now. I can’t wrap my head around it. I know better then to give any response to that question. But this one got to me. She was terrified. I had some selfish need to calm her down….in order to spare myself the agony of her truth. Her truth meaning…there were too many variables at play. My truth being…I knew better. I projected my wish instead of the truth. The truth being…I didn’t know. She seemed ok. She wasn’t a classic failure to thrive. But in that moment…saying “I don’t know”….seemed so wrong. She was visibly shaking. She was terrified. And this damn virus spun on a dime. Saying no….calmed her down. It was CHRISTMAS FOR GODS SAKES! We were laughing five minutes later….and while I try to justify my answer with that….it was still a lie. It doesn’t matter that it didn’t begin as a lie. The end result is even if it had truth by intent when spoken, it became a lie the moment she died.

For dignity reasons as well as HIPPA, I don’t feel comfortable writing about everything I saw up there. But I can set the scene. We had multiple people in rooms meant for one bed. We were packed. We had people in beds in the halls. In order to lockdown our covid unit, we had to put all the negatives on one side of the building, the maybe’s (waiting on the PCR tests or positive on the rapids) on the other side of the building…and the covid positive upstairs. And then we were shut down from the rest of the facility. For a while we had our maintenance guys, but no housekeeping. But then the maintenance guys got covid. I now know how to fix an electric bed…sort of.

We were not allowed out of the covid unit and could not come in contact with any other staff members outside of the unit. And many genuinely WANTED to go upstairs on that unit, but they couldn’t. We still had people downstairs and the administration held back, trying to prevent any more staff from catching it if they could. So we ran a small crew up there. But we waved to them from the balcony and called each other constantly to check on our people. The staff downstairs wanted to check on the residents upstairs and the staff upstairs wanted to check on the residents downstairs. But the residents downstairs were obviously exposed at some point. They had to pop positive downstairs in order to come upstairs. The difference was space. Absolutely everything from covid unit was thrown away or sterilized. No personal clothing could be brought onto the unit. Strictly hospital gowns that could be sent out and cleaned. Food trays were made entirely of Styrofoam and plastic silverware was a requirement. The higher ups brought in case after case of Gatorade for the residents. and since those of us on covid could no longer use the breakroom, they brought in cases of snacks, k-cups etc…for us.

Fluids were a big deal up there. We pushed fluids like nobodies business. And the ones who were with it, were typically given this speech…”We know you don’t feel well…and you may throw up…but we need you to drink this anyway…and if you throw up…we need you to drink some more”. Which in reality, is harder then you might think….which is why IV fluids became the regular therapy within the week. Blood thinners, IV fluids and antibody infusions. And try keeping an IV in a resident who not only has dementia, but has covid confusion….let’s just say…that didn’t always work out. These were grown adults.

Sleep was all but gone during those two months. I think we all tried to sleep, but the unknown was driving us to insomnia. We never knew until we got there and checked the white board….. whose name would be in what category?

Current

Graduated

Deceased

Three words….three all consuming words. They don’t seem strong enough. Those words. They seem too simple. Are we as human beings…so small….that we can only fit into those three categories? I asked myself that question daily.

Then there was the cherry red tomatoes.

The perfect storm in those who were reaching a tipping point. The cherry red flushing of their skin, typically MINUS a fever. The fever had usually passed by the time the flushing came. I know right. Trust me…we were all scratching our heads on that one. I mean they had a day or two when we thought they were better…then boom. We knew whenever we saw that color, things were about to change.

It got to the point that I legit had a full blown panic attack one day over that wretched color. I’d come home to my 16 year old standing in the kitchen with no shirt on. His skin was red…a flushed cherry red. I freaked. I started asking him how he felt, trying to take his temp…asking him if he’d been anywhere (I’d kept him in homeschool because of where I work)…anyway. I was driving him nuts and he was ticked…it turned out he’d just gotten out of the shower. But when I tell you I spent the next two days taking his temp every few hours…take it as truth.

That almost perfect horrible hue of red. I say almost perfect…because the virus itself….was almost perfectly designed by nature.

It has one job…to multiply…to spread from host to host…to survive. And from a science standpoint, the design is almost flawless. I say almost…because sometimes the host dies, which serves no purpose to the virus itself.

Maybe that’s the adjective…maybe that’s the emotion. Can an emotion be a color? Not visualized as a color. But be the actual color. Because if it can…that’s my answer to the question….how did it feel? It felt almost perfectly and horribly…cherry red.

I could lie and say we’re all fine. But the truth is we’re not.

Did anything positive come out of my experience? Yes. I learned that human beings have an unlimited capacity for compassion, empathy, kindness and love…in SPADES!


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