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— Clinical

You Can’t Go Home

The pandemic brought hospital staff and patients closer together, even as it imposed distance and isolation from family and friends

I can still recall the moment our unit transitioned from a progressive care unit (PCU) to a COVID-19 unit. It began on a mid-March morning. I kissed my husband and my boys goodbye before leaving home for work, not really knowing how this emerging pandemic would change that morning — and so many mornings after.

During my lunch break on March 11, 2020, I called my husband and said, “This is serious. I think we have to make some adjustments at home for about two weeks until we figure out what is going on with this virus.” The two-week plan would require him to take care of the kids while I stayed in my elderly parents’ garage to avoid any cross-contamination.

“The two-week plan became four weeks, then more. I would not come home again to my family and my own bed for six months.”

My co-workers stepped up to provide me with much-needed support during this difficult transition and time. I have so much respect and admiration for all of my colleagues. Teamwork allowed us to persevere through the pandemic. It was always a group effort: doctors, nurses, clinical care providers, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, environmental services team members and others.

We needed to be flexible and innovative in how we provided nursing and patient care. We preplanned all of the supplies we would require before stepping into patients’ rooms. As caregivers, we were in rooms for hours: starting IVs, drawing blood, providing medication, passing meals and making sure all of the patient’s necessary activities were completed.
There were moments of distress, frustration and anxiety because policies were constantly changing in response to changing conditions. There were moments of fear when there was talk of a personal protective equipment shortage nationwide. Seeing the large shipping containers of equipment and materials as we prepared for the surge, it seemed like there would be no end to the pandemic.

I still recall a married couple, both admitted for COVID-19. They were initially treated in the Intensive Care Unit. The husband was eventually transferred to my unit. The wife sadly died.

Every morning we would set up his designated iPad so family could communicate with him via Zoom. Initially, we had to hold the iPad for him, but as his health improved, he was able to hold it himself.

Every day he got better. Every day, he would ask about his wife. His family had not yet told him. It was painfully difficult to change the conversation, per his family’s request. They did not want him to become depressed or lose strength knowing she was no longer nearby. They wanted him to get better before telling him that the virus had taken the love of his life. In time, using multiple therapies, he improved enough to go home. It would be a different place, but his story is still one of success and a reason we all worked so hard for so long.

Although I spent more than six months physically separated from my family, I am honored to have been a part of the UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest’s COVID-19 unit. Through the process, I was able to gain knowledge, respect and admiration for my work colleagues, and was humbled by a virus that affected all aspects of our lives.

When emergency use authorizations were granted for the COVID-19 vaccines, I felt a sense of relief. With each shot, I knew we were one step closer to the end of the pandemic.

Of course, the eventual end of one pandemic does not mean the end of all pandemics. There will be others, but I have learned from and leaned upon my co-workers, family and friends, and I know we can meet whatever comes next.