I’ve been a nurse for almost 10 years, working mainly on a hospital’s cardiac floor.

One day I was assigned to a makeshift intensive care unit that had previously been an observation unit for highly stable patients waiting for test results. Many of the patients in this new Covid-19 unit were intubated, with ventilators breathing for them.

When I started the shift, a trained intensive care unit nurse was crying in the supply closet. She was overwhelmed and anxious, hadn’t worked on her familiar unit in weeks, and had been told that her next shift would be an overnight one — and she had no choice in the matter.

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Many of us don’t have a choice. We are assigned to work in unfamiliar units, with patients who are outside our expertise, without any training. We’re lost.

Most shifts start with nurses crying. Most shifts end that way too.

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“It’s out of our hands,” we hear from hospital administrators.

Nurses who typically work in outpatient clinics are being sent to inpatient floors and assigned to care for patients who are acutely ill. Many haven’t worked at the bedside in decades. The number of patients who have fallen in this unit has risen exponentially in the past two weeks due to lack of training of outpatient nurses.

I wonder if the patients know their nurses are overwhelmed, and that many of them are scared they’ll make a deadly mistake.

“Everyone is out of their comfort zone, just hang in there,” we’re told.

Doctors have been instructed not to enter patients’ rooms unless they must as a way to minimize their exposure to the virus that causes Covid-19 while nurses go from one room to the next, medicating, bathing, turning, and comforting their patients without changing their uncomfortable personal protective equipment, since supplies are limited. This work can take hours. It is not uncommon for nurses to go all day without drinking water or eating because that would mean removing our protective gear.

During one of my shifts, a doctor at my hospital posted several TikToks he made while sitting at the nurses’ station of a busy Covid-19 unit as nurses whispered words of encouragement to patients clinging to life supported by ventilators. Over our words and the hum of the ventilators, I wondered if our patients heard music coming from this doctor’s TikToks.

“We hear your concerns, but there’s nothing we can do,” doesn’t reassure or encourage us.

One day as I worked in the makeshift ICU, one of the hospital’s leaders went floor to floor making an important delivery. She approached our nursing station in her crisp professional attire and fresh disposition, and proudly delivered a supply of makeup-removing wipes. She told us to use the wipes to clean our faces before putting on our N95 masks so we could reuse the masks later, then moved on to the next nurses’ station without asking how our staff was doing or if we needed anything. I wonder if she had noticed the nurse crying in the supply closet.

“That’s above us, we don’t make those decisions,” is passing the buck at its worst.

Excuses from hospital administrators seem to have punctuated every shift for the past six weeks. The praise and applause from hospital leadership only go so far.

 

I can read in my co-workers’ faces and hear from the stories they tell that the biggest danger we face is not Covid-19. It’s the hospital’s administration.

Leadership is failing us, even as we stand firm in not failing our patients. We care for your loved ones, Covid-19 or not, monitor their vital signs, give them medications, rub lotion on their backs, help them to the bathroom, and brush their hair. We FaceTime their families from our personal phones so they can see their loved ones fighting to live. This is important care that nurses are proud to provide.

The narrative is simple. Nursing, and nurses, are not valued. It’s a shame, and maybe even a deadly shame, that hospital leaders don’t care about nurses like we care for our patients.

Jaclyn O’Halloran is a registered nurse who works in a hospital in Massachusetts.

  • Exactly the same shit here in the UK. And we ae paying those ‘Leaders’ six-figure salaries out of public money. They have to go!

  • RN, 20yrs in, 14 of those yrs in ICU. As I was reading this I actually started to cry. It felt like the words were falling out of my heart unto this passage. I haven’t seen my seven yr old going on seven weeks. He is safe & loved with my sister thank goodness. But it’s not the same. FaceTime & phone calls do not replace physical love for your family. Yes I am a hugger. I’ve seen my parents only through their window & they live three miles down the road. Although they are in their mid sixties. The risk is too high. I don’t have the answers God knows that. All I feel we can do is pray for one another. And that means everyone: brother & sister nurses, family, friends, & pray again for each other. That’s the only thing I have left to give along with tears.

  • The Unsung heros are the respiratory therapists busting their asses too. Im a nurse and greatly appreciate their calming presence since im working in the icu and im not an icu nurse.

  • This is a heart-rending story and one that should get wider hearing. Just my guess, but I bet that having jets fly over Boston doesn’t really help all that much, eh? More tone-deaf “leadership”.

  • There is a saying: “those who can do, those who can’t do – teach, those who can’t do either administer.” It is an unfair slur, but it has a kernel of truth.

  • This is a sad story. I’m happy to say that I work at a hospital in MA where nurses are respected, valued and at the heart of all we do for our patients. The administration is very sensitive to the stress nurses and other staff are experiencing during the pandemic.

  • This is an important account of what is going today in hospitals, when nurses and nursing couldn’t be more vital.

  • I am so sorry to hear about these conditions but hate to say I am not entirely surprised. The US, and our state of Massachusetts, has a largely money-driven not care-driven, health care non-system that is fragmented, hugely expensive without getting our monies worth, and not patient-centered. These sad facts (deplorable facts, actually), mean that nurses who are the backbone and heart and soul and brains of inpatient care, are not given the respect and support and working conditions required for consistent high quality care that meets nursing practice standards. Shame on the so-called “leaders” at this nurses hospital. Shame on all of us for continuing to accept this non-system of care in the US that is often dysfunctional, wastes unimaginable amounts of money that could be well-spend on other social goods, and, saddest of all, harms many. Maybe the Boston Globe would feel compelled to do a follow-up piece on this story and link it to the Institute of Medicine Report that analyzed how many patients are killed every year in the US due to preventable healthcare errors. But my main point of writing this comment is to extend my support to Jacclyn O’Halloran and her collegues, and to thank her for speaking the truth.

    • Anne good idea. The 2nd edition of the Future of Nursing Report is due to come out in 2021. They are going to have to revise the report after COVID 19. Who would have thought…..we would be living this nightmare in 2021. It has thrown us back into the dark ages of nursing.

  • I am 70 a retired biologist my three daughters work in medical fields. Some days I worry if they will return home or otherwise. I am posting your words Jaclyn on my FLIPPBOARD & PINTEREST accounts for all to hear & help anyways they can. We might all be on the receiving end of nursing.

  • So sorry this is happening to nurses and the workforce. WE know how to work with infectious patients. This is not new. What is new is the misinformation, the confusion and the lack of supplies. I pray for each front line worker. Thank you for what you are doing.

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