working as a nurse in NYC during the coronavirus pandemic

The PPE detective

Since February, Poon had begun realising the particular importance of personal protective equipment (PPE) with this virus and worrying about the country’s lack of supply. PPE is always essential but this virus was extra contagious.

“I did my own detective work and tried to use any connections I could because there were so many things unanswered: not knowing why there was such a shortage of PPE and not knowing what the treatments were,” she said.

“And in the beginning, we didn’t know how bad it would affect healthcare workers. We were reading about the high death rates in Italy.”

Scary is the only way to describe the work environment as it was just a guessing game, in the beginning, to see how many of her colleagues would contract it.

“In the beginning, some people were more careless about their PPE and just walking into rooms and fixing a ventilator with just a mask on and not wearing the gown and the shield but now we know you have to protect yourself first,” Poon said.

“Some people were less concerned than others, but many of us were deep in research on how much PPE truly was necessary. We weren’t going to just rely on guidelines that were constantly changing, to risk them failing us, with the cost possibly being our lives.”

She said the PPE issue is much more under control now and she does feel secure in that if you practice proper hygiene and protocol it will be OK, for the most part (the more you take off and put on the mask, the more you risk getting contaminated, she noted.)

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However, wearing masks, shields, and goggles for hours a day comes with its own set of strains. Poon said she has been having facial pain (after all, she has a mask suctioned to her face the majority of the day) as well as skin issues. She also wears a full hazmat suit which she added not everyone does but “I’m not taking any risks.”

But none of that compares to seeing what patients are going through.

“The hardest part is seeing people go through this and knowing that you can’t do anything else. Outside of this whole pandemic, it’s hard enough to see people sick and see them going through sometimes the hardest part of their lives, and now their families can’t even be there with them.

“We’ll hold the phone up to let the family FaceTime, and sometimes they are watching them die and sometimes they are just trying to say hello not knowing if their loved one can hear it because they are in a coma.

“There is nothing we can do about it but try our best. It’s awful. Even if you aren’t sick with COVID and you are in the hospital for surgery or other treatment, you can’t have someone with you.”