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Transforming Health
Season 15 | Ep. 2

Coronavirus Diaries

The coronavirus is affecting each and every one of us. It has made connecting with friends and neighbors more challenging. That’s why we’ve been collecting your stories. From frontline workers to high school seniors, everyone has a story to tell. Join us as we share our collection of coronavirus diaries with you on Transforming Health.

Surreal. Monumental. Like nothing we’ve ever encountered. A nightmare becoming reality. These are just a few ways the COVID-19 pandemic has been described.

This is what it is. This is coming home after a COVID-19 —

It’s coming home to a sink full of dirty dishes that we haven’t had any time to do that we’ve been so stressed. More garbage that needs to be taken out. It’s overall — the apartment being a mess because we’ve both been working.

Hopefully, this helps you understand that the more stay at home, the safer they are, and the safer we are to get out of our job. And get home to our loved ones, at the end of the shift — safely and clean, and not contaminated.

I was on a webinar with the CDC where they were talking about reusing PPE, like, how to sterilize your masks, and your gowns, and, like, make supplies last — and that was one of those “twilight zone” moments that made me feel, like this is some kind of nightmare becoming a new norm. But then, at the same time, the fact that I even have one is a blessing. The fact that it’s from home depot, and doesn’t really fit me is — it’s like the best we can do with what we have.

What I don’t have control of are the unknowns. What’s yet to come. And quite truthfully, I think we’re pretty far away from what’s yet to come. Nobody knew of this until a couple months ago — by then, it was already too late to try and prepare for it.

The coronavirus is affecting each and every one of us. School buildings are empty. Events have been cancelled. Lives have been lost. Connecting with family and friends is difficult. That’s why we’ve been collecting your stories because from frontline workers to high school seniors, everyone has a story to tell.

Today, healthcare is about empowering people to take control of their health. Whether creating a fitness routine, choosing the right procedures and medications, or adhering to treatment for a chronic condition — capital blue cross. Dedicated to underwriting Transforming Health for the good health of the community.  WellSpan Health — helping patients reach their health goals through a coordinated system of physicians, hospitals, and convenient healthcare services in communities across central Pennsylvania. Learn more at WellSpan Health — for the journey that is life. Support also comes from viewers like you. Thank you.

Hello and welcome to “Transforming Health: The Coronavirus Diaries.” I’m Keira McGuire. In these strange times, even this show looks a little different as it has been produced remotely. In March, the first cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania were confirmed. In less than a month later, on April 1st, Governor, Tom Wolf issued a statewide stay-at-home order to slow the spread of COVID-19. But those on the frontlines of the pandemic have not had that luxury. Everyday EMTs, nurses, doctors leave the safety of their homes in order to help others.

Hi, it’s Tuesday afternoon. My cube is starting to look more — like a stockpile of sorts. We’ve got some extra supplies that are getting stored in my office.

Chief stevens, tell me about the calls you’re getting right now.

In general, the feeling is people are just afraid to go to the hospital. So, the call volume has dropped off, those people who use ems as a taxi cab to get to the hospital have stopped calling. But, the patients we are seeing seem to be more sick.

We’ll be your tour guides today for the decons of this lovely vehicle that will be our chariot for the day.

Wipe down all surfaces that potentially could hold any floors, which pretty much is everywhere. So, we do walls, we do benches, we do cabinets, we do it all. One stop shop for cleaning. [Hearing surfaces being wiped down]

Ah — following the morning ritual, decon. Getting the trucks outside. Busy day outside the er at York hospital. Trucks are lined up. And the tents for evaluations of patients coming in with COVID-19 symptoms. The saga continues.

As far as patient care, it’s a little more difficult. It’s a lot more suspicious. Dispatchers now with COVID-19 are looking for priority symptoms, so fever with a dry cough. Those type of things. Anybody with priority symptoms now they’re using the n-95 masks that we’ve heard a lot about. Right now, all of our personnel are issued an n-95 mask. They are told to hold onto that mask, unless it becomes physically damaged that it’s not useable, or obviously soiled. That’s the one choice we have. Beyond that, if we were switching out with every patient, we probably would make it the next 30 days to give out, that’s about it.

The outside pre-screening area at Well Span York. All patients presenting with symptoms of COVID-19 go through a pre-screening before there taken inside into the main emergency room.

We don’t believe at this point any of our members have had contact or exposure to a COVID-19 patient. We’re always waiting to find out if there’s somebody that we saw, a week or two weeks ago that comes back and tests positive.

We come in, we have to take our vital signs to make sure we are fit for duty, and not having any cough or any symptoms of the corona, or COVID-19. And then, once we’re done with that, we will proceed to decon the entire truck, even though the overnight crew probably did it as well, but better safe than sorry.

We’re always concerned and that’s what makes the job of the EMS provider so much more difficult. There’s a lot of unknowns. That’s always in the back of your head that at some point, you’re going to get sick, or your going to be exposed to something that you don’t want to.

Hopefully this helps understand that the more people stay at home, the safer they are, and the safer we are to get out of our job, and get home to our loved ones at the end of the shift. Safely and clean, and not contaminated.

When we start talking about essential personnel, who are of the epitome of essential — we can’t shut down.

So, if you could deliver a message to the general public, what would that be?

The biggest thing that you can do is stay at home. Don’t venture out. As uncomfortable as that is, that’s what’s going to help slow this process down. We’re trying to stop that surge. It’s that surge that will overwhelm the medical community.

It’s Sunday, March 29th. Little bit before midnight. I just made myself some tea. Figured I would start my video journal for you now because I’m finding it increasingly hard to sleep at night.  Thinking about getting back to work tomorrow and every day last week was so surreal, like every day was just a new nightmare becoming a new baseline reality.  My professional life — you know, for the past 10 years has revolved around caring for the terminally ill and the actively dying. Now, there are days when I come home crying, and things that I need to decompress, but it’s usually not such a sustained, prolonged, anxious anticipation of what’s to come, and that’s what makes this different — is the not knowing.  Not knowing what’s gonna happen.

So, Susie, tell me how are you holding up, with all of the changes at work?

Last Monday, was the day I had an absolute break down because I got to work and saw how much preparation we were doing for something we knew was coming, and yet, at the same time, just feeling vastly unprepared. And um — it’s like I said, every day last week was, like a new — a new level of nightmare becoming a new norm that was just hard to digest. Like, where I really pinned it coming from was this feeling of being so unsafe and in a sense, abandoned.

Hi. Good morning. It’s Monday, March 30th. Headed into work. I had actually submitted my resignation umm — earlier in February, with an anticipated end date of April 10th. That’s been derailed, pretty aggressively. We’ll figure out whatever the next few weeks brings.

Hi. It’s me again. Home from work. This is professor, Theodore Paulfield. One of my quarantine buddies. And the naughty, Miss Elouise. No, you’re sweet, you’re not naughty. You’re sweet, I know. You’re my good girl.

So, I was up on these isolation wards that were really intimidating over the past week ’cause I would see, like the plastic with the zippers and signage, and thought, like you know, “I’m not gonna go in there until I absolutely have to”, and today was the day that I had to.

Going forward, umm — my responsibility to my community will be managing the inpatient dying population. That’s gonna be increasingly more and more COVID patients as there’s several umm — nursing homes in the area that are starting to report outbreaks. So, I was given an n-95 mask, although it’s, as you can see, a contractor version because we just don’t have the medical ones that are adjustable and have been fit tested to our faces. And then, this umm — face shield that goes on like this. And, after every patient encounter I have to sanitize the outside with bleach wipes and that, in theory, protects the outside of this from getting droplets on it, but as you can see, it’s not a perfect system. And it’s — it’s not a reflection of my own organization which is doing the absolute best they can, or even my community, which has stepped up and donated as much as they can to our supplies. It’s unfortunately, just an impact of this whole outbreak that our system was not prepared for. Inevitably, I’m gonna be exposed. Could’a been today. You know, event though I — I’m lucky in that I don’t have to worry about coming home to a family and exposing young kids or older parents — or even a spouse at this point in my life. It can be really lonely too. I have some family that lives close to me, and knowing that I’m not gonna have that human interaction with them for weeks really weighs on me. There’s just something that, you know — hugs and kisses with the babies you love in your life, that facetime can’t replace. Umm, and even knowing that — even after the last patient I treat, I still have a two-week period of needing to self-isolate from them is hard. But, my journey is certainly no harder than someone else’s because we’re all having to make incredible sacrifices. It’s a real thing. I’m gonna put my feet up, and maybe paint my nails, and do some aroma therapy, a face mask. Make dinner.

Nobody knew of this until a couple months ago, and by then it was already too late to try and prepare for it. Good evening, it’s Sunday. It’s the end of week two of social distancing and now, a stay-at-home order by governor wolf.  The weekend’s been kind of short. It’s gone fast. I haven’t physically been at work. But, with that said, I’ve spent a great deal of time texting and emailing and video conferencing. I wanted to share just a little bit of my frustrations over the weekend. We now have an extended-care facility in our primary response area that is on quarantine. But, they didn’t share that information. So, our crews showed up there for a call, and once they were inside the facility they were told about the quarantine, prompted me to enforce an n-95 mask usage on all patients, at all extended care-facilities, but with that comes some challenges, some concerns of the n-95 masks are on back order for us. They still haven’t come in. But, as we increase usage, and this becomes a longer event, that stockpile dwindles away. With that said, you know, one of my paramedics and all well-intentioned, questioned, “shouldn’t we be in better PPE? Shouldn’t we have full face shields all the time, mask all the time, with every patient encounter?” And at this point, I’d like to say, “yes, hands down, yes.” We should be in an upgraded mode. But the reality of the situation is the stock isn’t there, and quite truthfully, I think we’re pretty far away from what’s yet to come. I’m concerned. Our folks that work for us here are concerned, and rightfully so. And we just keep pleading with the public to you know, just follow the rules. Just stay at home. Shut yourself away from everyone else. So, try and relax a little bit this evening, and get myself ready for week three. And we’ll see where that takes us.

Hi. My name is Martha. I’m a registered nurse here at Hershey Medical Center. And I am a member of the special pathogens unit, and I am currently been deployed to help take care of patients during the pandemic.

Martha, I understand you volunteered to work on this unit. Why?

I volunteered in that because umm, I’m a little bit older than my peers. I’m 61. And I remember when aids and HIV came out, and that was a really difficult time for a lot of people, and one of the things that made it so difficult is that we didn’t know anything about it. And as I, they know me to say, “fear is a mind killer, and education’s the cure.” So, let’s find out about it. So, I said we need to be involved.

Well, thank you for doing what you’re doing. So, you’ve now been treating patients that are COVID-19 positive for about six weeks. What have you learned about the virus?

This does not act like anything else we’ve ever encountered. I’ve been a nurse for about 20 years. I’ve been with Hershey medical center for 18. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like that. Like this — that’s moved so that has really demanded that we be on our feet, and just trying to adapt to all the changes and things we’ve learned along the way. I don’t think anybody has. That’s what’s taking everybody by surprise. We are developing evidence-based practice right now, so everything that we’re doing now will impact what we do in the fall. Because we anticipate this coming back. And we anticipate having to deal with this, probably for the rest of our lives. So, we are — we’re right in the middle of an experiment.

Hi. Now we’re here at the COVID floor, here in the first floor of Hershey medical center’s emergency room. We have 12 beds. You can see them here.

They flow of patients — it waxes and wanes. Somedays we have all 12 beds filled up, but it can change in a heartbeat. It truly can. So, we have to be ready.

This is our part that we keep all of our stuff in, all of our supplies. It’s got gowns, gloves, and more in it. And these are two of my coworkers here. This is Clarissa, and this is Beyone’. They’re showing the new gowns — the gown outfits that we have to wear. This is one with the N-95 mask, and this is called a packered unit. You get the unit — wear the respiratory system that’s appropriate for whatever task that you’re doing.

We’ve been training, like I said — for the past five years wearing this PPE. And it’s multiple layers of protection. And, I’m used to it. We’ve been doing it. We’ve been practicing for this. And, I think you have to be careful that you don’t get too ‘lax. So, we watch each other. We encourage each other to make sure that you’re putting the layers on properly, and more importantly, that you’re taking the layers off properly. I just shift my brain into patient care, and focus on that. And just try to be weary of the other discomforts that might come along. We have young adults all the way to very elderly that have been positive, or they’re concerning for it. Some people are very ill with high fevers on our unit. We’ve have a lot of respiratory discomfort and increased oxygen needs. For people. “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.” So, a lot of reassuring. Umm — using our audio system to calmly reassure them that I’m watching you, it’s okay. We’re able to watch the monitors, and “don’t worry, I’m watching you.” “I’m watching you.” “I’m watching you.” A lot of reassuring going on. This is COVID-19 because it’s so contagious — we go in we try to reduce the number of times we go in because that trip is not only exposing me to it, you to me. But, also every time I go in I have to use a whole set of PPE, so also trying to be diligent with our supplies. Trying to make every time I open that plastic, take everything out of that wrapper, that it counts. We group care around meal times, and our bringing your breakfast, or your lunch, or your dinner. I bring your medications that are due at that time. We do vital signs. I’m in there from 30 minutes to some people, they can’t feed themselves, so I’m in there for over an hour. And then, I leave. And then you’re by yourself for the next three to four hours until I come back in, and start the process. It’s a much, much different hospital experience, so it’s a little frustrating for nursing because it’s not the kind of nursing that we been doing, and it’s not the kind of nursing that we wanna do. We wanna be able to spend extended periods of time with our patients, but this is the best way we can do that right now.

Martha, you mentioned that you have asthma. You’re 61. You are in this higher-risk category. So, why do this work?

I am, would be considered a risk patient. But, I believe in the process, and am using my PPE. If we’re following the protocols that we’re supposed to be doing, then I feel very, very confident about it. I love my job. So, it’s not gonna work for me. To be with people. To educate people. To do this scientific stuff to advocate for better patient outcomes, what an awesome job I have.

We have all been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, some more deeply than others. And although it continues to separate us in many ways, we now all have a shared experience.

We are, as a whole nation, learning altogether. I think that’s gonna be a huge takeaway that we look back and say, “this was a monumental event.” “I made it through one of the worst pandemics we’ve had in decades, and I was part of that solution.” “The treatments and the procedures and the guidelines that we have now, I was a part of that, and — we’re making history, right now.”

Once we get past this, and we will. Maybe we won’t take those little things for granted as much anymore. I think the introspection is the significant things we learn about ourselves. We learn more about the people that are around us. And therefore, we just become better people, a kinder, gentler nation.

And once the true crisis of this situation is over, I think that all of us, regardless of what our professions are will have a responsibility to think about what can we do to prevent things like this from ever happening again. How much of our world, or how much of our lives are things that we genuinely need? How much are we okay with going without? How do we live more modestly and more mindfully? And more conscious of each other.

I’d like to thank all of our video diary participants for sharing so intimately, the ways in which they’ve been impacted by the virus. We hope that these stories have provided you with the feeling of connection during this time. Please join us next time as we continue to share stories and transform health. I’m Keira McGuire, thanks for watching.

Today, healthcare is about empowering people to take control of their health. Whether creating a fitness routine, choosing the right procedures and medications, or adhering to treatment for a chronic condition — capital blue cross. Dedicated to underwriting Transforming Health, for the good health of the community.   WellSpan Health — helping patients reach their health goals through a coordinated system of physicians, hospitals, and convenient healthcare services in communities across central Pennsylvania. Learn more at WellSpan Health, for the journey that is life. Support also comes from viewers like you. Thank you.

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Keira McGuire
Keira McGuire

Keira McGuire is a health reporter and multimedia producer for WITF. She hosts and produces Transforming Health television programs as well as other shows and documentaries for WITF’s Original Productions. McGuire produced the Emmy Award winning series HealthSmart for the last ten years. Keira previously worked at WBFF in Baltimore and WMDT in Salisbury as a reporter and anchor. She’s a graduate of Towson University.

Read more by Keira McGuire