The Nurses Are Not All Right
Early in the pandemic, nurses, doctors and other essential workers were cheered as heroes. They rallied, worked incredibly long hours, and put their own lives and health on the line to take care of COVID patients. Two years in, they're still working incredibly long hours and putting their own lives and health on the line to take care of COVID patients. Except now there are a lot fewer of them, and many of those left are being treated horribly by angry, conspiracy-minded patients who refused to get vaccinated and now believe nurses are trying to kill them by denying them their preferred horse paste "protocol."
Last week, health workers across the country gathered in front of the White House, lighting 481 candles — each one for a nurse who died of COVID — pleading for safer working conditions, and in opposition of the new CDC recommendation that says they can come to work even if they are testing positive for COVID.
Julia Truelove, an ICU nurse in Washington, DC. told ABC News that those participating in the vigil were asking for two main things from the federal government: "The first is for OSHA to pass a permanent COVID standard which means that going forward, our employers are held accountable for keeping us safe with optimum precautions at work." she said. "The second is for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to base their guidance on the best science and the best public health, not just what is best for business."
In the Bronx, nurses rallied outside of the Jacobi Medical Center, also demanding better and safer working conditions, highlighting the fact that they were barely able to accommodate the victims of the deadly Bronx high-rise fire last week.
“It’s not because we don’t want to care for our patients. We’re tired. We can’t take it anymore,” NY State Nurses Association President Nancy Hagan told PIX11.
We may all be talking about "Oh, Omicron is mild, it's whatever," but it hasn't been "whatever" for those working in healthcare. Across the country, nurses and doctors are warning that the healthcare system is on the verge of collapsing. Many are going on strike. Even more are just straight-up quitting bedside nursing altogether.
The r/nursing subreddit offers a glimpse into what many of these workers are going through, particularly in dealing with anti-vax patients who think the nurses are trying to murder them for whatever reason. In a post titled "Death Squad," one nurse wrote:
Ya'll.... me and my coworkers are literally being called death squads by our community members. It is a select group of people, but it is enough to cause quite the ruckus. They said we are carrying out murder/death policies. They said we are being compensated for killing people and administering remdesivir. They said we are forcing people to be on a ventilator because it kills these patients. They said they want to take control of the hospital and force us to "actually treat" patients.
Meanwhile I spent my entire shift in an n95 trying to stabilize a dying patient maxed out on vent settings, yet still keeping sats below 70%. Couldn't titrate pressors fast enough. Couldn't sedate enough. Couldn't bring down the fever. Nothing lowered his heart rate below 145. Nothing we threw at this patient touched him. We were playing a waiting game for him to code. I wouldn't be surprised if he is dead now.
I'm the death squad though.
I spent whatever time not in the dying person's room trying to help my other patient understand the treatment options for COVID, assess why he didn't get vaccinated, why he was refusing the only treatments we know to show some benefit, and giving him the option to not be intubated. I wanted him to fully understand the treatments we were offering, and if he continues to refuse that's fine, but I'm not offering anything that will cause harm. I specifically said the refusal to be intubated is 100% your choice, and yes we do find that intubated people don't do well.. because they are already that sick, not because the breathing tube kills them.
I'm "enforcing death policies" though.
Others are so worn out they are ready to see the whole system burn, as one nurse wrote in a post titled "I actually hope the healthcare system breaks," the most popular post of the last month.
It’s not going to be good obviously but our current system is such a mess rn that I think anything would be better. We are at 130% capacity. They are aggressively pushing to get people admitted even with no rooms. We are double bedding and I refused to double bed one room because the phone is broken. “Do they really need a phone?” Yes, they have phones in PRISON. God. We have zero administrative support, we are preparing a strike. Our administration is legitimately so heartless and out of touch I’ve at times questioned if they are legitimately evil. I love my job but if we have a system where I get PUNISHED for having basic empathy I think that we’re doing something very wrong.
You cannot simultaneously ask us to act like we are a customer service business and also not provide any resources for us. If you want the patients to get good care, you need staff. If you want to reduce falls, you need staff. If you want staff, you need to pay and also treat them like human beings.
I hope the whole system burns. It’s going to suck but I feel complicit and horrible working in a system where we are FORCED to neglect people due to poor staffing and then punished for minor issues.
I really like nursing but I’m here to help patients, not our CEO.
The sub is also full of not just nurses, but ambulance drivers talking about how they are getting to hospitals to find that there are no nurses there.
They don't have resources, they're understaffed, overworked, frequently underpaid and on top of that, they have to deal with vicious conspiracy theorists making their lives hell. This is not sustainable. If we don't start listening to these workers and giving them what they need to do this work, we're going to end up in a lot of trouble, and it's not just going to be unvaccinated COVID patients who suffer.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse