Jeanie Hubert, OR RN – Hunterdon Medical Center
COVID-19 had a silver lining for me because it allowed me to use my skills as a medical-surgical nurse to care for others when it was desperately needed. I have been an operating room nurse for the last four years; however, I have a background in medical-surgical nursing. In the coming of the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided to put my “med-surg nurse hat” back on and put my skill set to good use.
During the months of March, April, and May, I was redeployed as an emergency room nurse at Hunterdon Medical Center. I was able to use my skills in medical-surgical nursing that I do not normally employ on a daily basis in the operating room. Jeanie the med-surg nurse was back in full force; in the blink of an eye, I was starting IVs, drawing bloodwork, administering various medications and treatments, and performing numerous bedside procedures in an emergency room that was overwhelmed with patients. The emergency room never slowed down during the 12-hour shifts that I worked. The other (incredible) nurses and I gave our all to these patients; we worked in sixth gear from the minute that we arrived to the minute that we were able to go home. We were absolutely exhausted at the end of each day.
In addition to serving in the ER, I worked at pop-up field hospitals just outside New York City. These hospitals were rapidly constructed by the U.S. military. Patient rooms were merely cots that were separated by curtains. Six large oxygen tanks fed each patient “wing,” with oxygen tubing running directly to each individual room. One medication cart supplied each wing. It was like the television show M*A*S*H came to real life in 2020. I truly felt like I was in a movie of some kind. I worked 12- to 14-hour shifts straight through—not taking any breaks to eat, drink, or use the bathroom because I did not want to remove my mask (or my hazmat suit). I averaged about 70 hours per week, caring for patients infected with COVID-19. Almost daily I watched patients die from respiratory failure, despite our best efforts to recover them. I watched the patients rapidly deteriorate right in front of me. I cared for patients of all ages; some as young as their early 20s were unable to maintain their oxygen saturation above 90% without supplemental oxygen. It was the most horrific experience in the seven years that I have been a nurse, without a doubt.
I am thankful for the experiences that I had as a professional; however, I am deeply saddened by the impact of COVID-19. Many patients did not survive, and my heart is heavy with grief for those we could not save. This experience was life-changing; I appreciate the simple things in life—like a “typical day at work” or a bright and sunny day—on a whole new level.