DENVER — Across the country, hospitals are taking steps to combat the novel coronavirus. Many are searching for more ventilators and personal protective equipment. Hospital and triage centers are also in need, however, of more medical personnel to help treat patients.
States across the country are temporarily changing their rules in an effort to fill the demand for medical personnel, including allowing some professionals to come out of retirement as well as allowing some to graduate without the needed clinical hours.
Traveling nurses are also helping some of the hardest hit hospitals in the country. Family nurse practitioner Oriana Cruz is now filling in at one of the hardest hit hospitals in the country, Elmhurst Hospital in New York.
“I actually am in the medical intensive care unit. By the time they get to the floor than I am on, they have already been through the emergency department and the people that I’m taking care of are really, really, really sick,” Cruz said.
Cruz has been working at Elmhurst Hospital since March 23 and stays in a hotel nearby. At first, she was hesitant to tell her family where she was going to be heading and what she would be doing because she knew they would worry about her.
“I was nervous to tell my parents. I didn’t actually tell my dad until I was already here a whole week,” she said.
Within the hospital, Cruz has seen and experienced everything the states and hospitals are warning about: the severity of the conditions for the patients, the shortage of ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) and the desperation of families trying to get some answers about their loved ones.
“I think all of that is going to weigh on me later and I think right now I’m doing what I can to be focused and keep going,” she said.
For PPE’s, Cruz says for the most part, she wears one PPE for the entire day. The face visor she wears was 3-D printed by a nearby company in an effort to help protect medical professionals. One of the respirators she wears was donated to her by a friend.
The hospitals themselves have also started to change some practices to help. On the ICU floor in Elmhurst, nurses have set up extended IV tubes and the medical equipment the patient is using is outside of their room behind a clear door instead of being inside.
“It gives some protection to the nurses so that they’re not walking into the room every time an IV pump decides to beep,” Cruz said.
In order to preserve PPE equipment, nurses and doctors are trying to make sure they can do everything they need to do for a patient all at once. Someone stands outside the room as well to get anything the doctor or nurse inside needs without having to leave.
Ventilators are also in short supply at the hospital.
“I can tell you that if there is a ventilator free, people know about it,” she said.
Elmhurst is even using its older ventilators as well as the travel ventilators that are only intended to move patients from one location to the next.
“At this point we’re having to use those ones in the hospital because that’s what we need and that’s not what they’re meant for,” Cruz said.
Cruz has also experienced the worst moments for the families of the novel coronavirus patients.
Many of the people on her floor have passed away and she has had to make difficult calls to families, who are not allowed to be in the hospital with their loved ones, that things have taken a turn for the worse.
“I’ve also had to hold an iPad because family members are like, ‘I just want to see her,’ so there I am holding the iPad and this person is showing no real signs of life other than their monitor and they’re talking to the patient and I can hear them crying just like... this is so hard,” Cruz said. “I just never thought I’d have to do things like that.”
However, Cruz has also seen the signs of hope. Several times as she’s made her way into the hospital for a shift, she’s been greeted by firefighters and police officers with signs cheering for the medical staff.
She has heard people around New York City howling at 8 p.m. to show their support for medical workers as well.
“It kind of reaffirms that even though this is hard and even though this is scary and I’m hoping and praying that I don’t get COVID-19, people really need us right now,” she said.
Cruz just recently signed up for another 21-day stint at the hospital to help fill in. While officials are starting to say that it appears that the curve is flattening, she’s worried that as the stay-at-home orders are lifted, the hospitals will become inundated once again with patients.
“By the time this is all said and done we are all going to lose somebody we love to this. It just has no mercy,” she said. “I just wish there was a way to tell people how serious this is and I just don’t think, unless you’re here witnessing it, that you could ever comprehend how sick these people are.”
For now, she is just pleading with people to follow the advice of state officials and stay home for their own health as well as for the sake of hospitals.
“Seeing what I’ve seen with these patients, please don’t take that risk. Please don’t take the risk that — either you're going to get this or someone you love will get this,” Cruz said.