Working in Edward Hospital’s intensive care unit, Kelly Bratsos is used to seeing and treating the sickest patients. But since her floor has changed to a unit for patients with COVID-19, it’s taken on a new meaning.
Working with patients who have COVID-19, Kelly has seen firsthand just how devastating the virus can be. Her unit has been operating at nearly full capacity.
“It’s scary because we are seeing a lot of middle-aged people and many of them do not have comorbidities, such as heart or lung disease,” Kelly says. “Often the sickest patients are admitted completely alert and talking, with low oxygen saturation levels. They go from chatting with us to being placed on a ventilator in a matter of hours. We have seen people on the ventilator for extended periods of time, a couple of weeks or more.”
A major adjustment has been changes to the visitor policy; patients are no longer allowed to have visitors. Kelly says although it’s the right decision, it’s difficult on patients as well as their families.
“When you bring a family member to the ER with symptoms, it could be the last time you talk to them in person for a while,” Kelly says. “We try to update loved ones as often as we can – at least once a shift or whenever a patient’s status changes. We also do things like read text messages to our patients on ventilators, play voicemails or even help them Facetime with their families. The patients might be heavily sedated, but they may still be able to hear.”
Kelly’s entire routine has changed since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. Her temperature is checked as soon as she walks in the hospital door. She wears a mask at all times, and the hospital is providing scrubs for doctors and nurses to change into when they arrive at the hospital. When working with patients, Kelly dons personal protective equipment (PPE), including a gown, gloves, goggles/face shield and a respirator or N95 mask. Some nurses have started wearing shoe covers and a bouffant or hair covering as well.
Once home, and while still in the garage, Kelly changes out of the clothes she wore to work. She later washes her work clothes separately on a sanitizing cycle. She leaves her shoes and work bag in the garage and disinfects her car. She also disinfects anything she took into the hospital that must be brought home, including her phone, keys, watch and wallet.
It’s all to keep her family healthy and safe. Kelly has two little boys at home, as well as her husband.
“I’m glad the boys are in bed when I get home from a shift because I need to immediately shower,” she says. “It’s hard to distance, but I need to protect them. As healthcare workers, we understand that it is hard to isolate and stay home. With our constant exposure, we have to be overly cautious. We haven’t seen any of our family or friends in more than eight weeks.”
Kelly wants people to understand the seriousness of the virus and that practicing social distancing and staying at home is the best way to avoid getting sick.
“Although you might feel fine, you might be unknowingly carrying the virus and exposing people,” she says. “A lot of people are upset about stay at home being extended. But as nurses, we’re terrified for it to end. We know it could result in a huge influx of people becoming infected and, in turn, more hospitalizations. With COVID-19, nobody is spared.”
To learn more about COVID-19, visit Edward-Elmhurst Health online.