Surviving The Storm: Nursing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Surviving The Storm: Nursing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Hindsight is always 20:20, right? Knowing what we know now, I would have done things different in 2020.  I would have picked up that extra pack of toilet paper and bought a whole lot of stock in Zoom conferencing system. PPE? Yes, I definitely would have ensured that my organization had an ample supply of surgical masks, disposable gowns, face shields and a variety of N95 respirators. Oh, and I would have pressed harder to ensure all the medical staff were fit-tested for the respirators.

It’s easy for me to look back and say what I should have done, as are most healthcare organizations. It’s easy to place blame around a conference room table, and there’s plenty of it to go around.

Yet, here we are in the (hopefully) end of a pandemic, and some organizations are more prepared than others. In an effort to get a wider view than just my own, I interviewed a CNO, an Infection Prevention Nurse, and an ICU staff nurse from large organizations. And, because PPE is such a hot topic right now, I am keeping their names anonymous for their own peace of mind.

If we could go back, I believe some organizations would focus less on reducing costs by keeping a low-level of supplies on hand, believing we could easily order more each day and blissfully unaware of the pending devastation in the supply chain. The theory of a light ship being maneuverable enough to stay on top of the surging tide seemed like a good idea at the time.

Given another chance, we might have put more effort into our required Surge and Emergency Contingency Policies, our navigation tools, and make sure that we have a stockpile of required provisions to get us through several weeks. We would make sure that we had a solid communication plan to get vital information to our precious staff in a timely manner, and over many venues and platforms. 

I know that many infection-prevention nurses would have insisted on screening incoming patients and limiting visitors in our hospitals, knowing what they know today. I’m sure they and the clinical educators would have taught their crew how to be better stewards of PPE in general. Had we known.

But we didn’t know. Or did we?

True, we knew it was theoretically possible, but we didn’t believe it would be in our career’s lifetime. We saw the movies of the zombie-apocalypse and contagions and we heard the TED Talks about super-infections. But most of us didn’t believe it would actually happen.  

Should we have known?

As I say to my adult children about our parenting: We did the best we could with the information we had at the time. Most organizations had a hard time wrapping their brain around the concept that a virus, halfway around the world, would ever touch their towns or cities.

Organizations didn’t intend to reduce supply levels so low that their staff is now providing care to patients infected with COVID-19 without proper protection. I’m confident that not one hospital administrator had “put the entire organization, staff, patients and our communities at risk by failing to respond to a droplet-transmitted pandemic” on their yearly roadmap.

Yet, some saw the storm coming, reacted quickly (and were accused of overreacting at the time), initiated measures to reduce patient contact, and requested supplies from the National Stockpiles. Some chose to get in front of the surge and created education around PPE use and even published the number of PPE supplies on their website. Many leaders across the country allowed themselves to show vulnerability with their staff and continue to provide as much transparency as possible.

Another favorite saying in my family is. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.”

Some saw the gale and put on their best gear. Their ships got  battered just like all the others, and their crews were tired, but safe and dry. Other organizations saw the storm and hoped that it would turn before it reached them. The crew of those ships were, and still are, exhausted, tattered, and worn to their core.

Knowing what we know today, of course there are things we all should have done differently. Hindsight has perfect vision. The more important question: What are we learning from this pandemic to better prepare for the next squall?

Resources for mental health and well-being: