The plea came back in mid-March. Nurses caring for coronavirus patients at a nearby facility were in need of masks. The Swellesley Report’s contact said, “We are being asked to work with one flu mask per patient and re-use that mask for eight hours per patient. This is for potential and confirmed COVID-19 patients. N95 masks can only be used in aerosolized cases and cases in which the patient is on a ventilator, and must be re-used for the shift. This is the plan for the COVID-19 floor. So please, if you have even one mask, it’s really needed.”
Swellesley readers responded, donating hundreds of masks. Our volunteers went to your homes to pick up the donations. From there, your donations went directly to nurses working locally.
Now an update:
Dear Swellesley Report readers,
I am one of the local nurses who was helped by readers donating masks. I was one among many that your donations went to. This is a small piece of my story.
I am a mother, nurse, and resident who works at a local facility. When I realized that I would be working directly with COVID-19 patients, I became extraordinarily scared that I would catch the illness. I am older and I have pre-existing conditions. I know there is a chance that if I get it, I could die. I also know protective equipment is very hard to obtain. I thought of whether to leave my job or to take time off. Fear gripped me. I did not know what to do.
Several factors guided my decision, including the two things I have loved most in life: my children and my profession. As a mother, I wanted to set an example. I want my children to see that sometimes the right thing to do isn’t always easy. Second, I have been a nurse for over thirty years. I love my career. I could not leave my profession when it needed me the most. I made sure that I had a will, went over it with a friend, and prepared for a challenge that was one of the biggest in my life. Other nurse friends got their affairs in order as well.
And the final thing was your support. My fear was so great that if it wasn’t for the response of readers donating masks, I don’t know if I could have walked through the doors of my facility those first days of the pandemic. I was able to do it because I knew I had protection with the masks and, just as important, I knew I had the care of the community behind me. I was so touched by stories of people driving from other states to donate masks or volunteers offering to pick them up from houses. You gave me the strength to walk in those first days.
What I have seen is nothing that 30-plus years of nursing could have prepared me for. There is no way to describe or give an easy snapshot of what was behind those doors. An environment that is constantly changing, with so, so so many sick people. A man who, by just going to the bathroom, lowered his oxygen level so much that he is prepared to be intubated. A woman who started the day seemingly healthy but now tests positive for the virus and because of co-existing conditions she probably will not live through the weekend. She does not. Another man who is confused and pleads with you to help him breathe as he tries to climb out of his bed. Another patient who starts the day stable and by the end of the day you are pushing cardiac medicine through his IV trying to slow his overworked heart. Another you hold the phone to their ear so their loved one can say goodbye. You watch the peace flood over the patient as she listens to her family, too weak to talk herself. Another you see the daughter via an iPad you are holding plead with her mother not to die. Over and over, these scenes play out before you. You don’t know how many more you will see, just that there will be more.
You prepare yourself mentally before work, you know chaos will be the norm. There is no way of knowing what you will need to respond to. You will be racing your whole shift. Your life-saving protective equipment will give you a headache, and make it impossible to eat or drink. You will leave exhausted, and wish to sleep for days except you will start the process over again the next day. But you do because you realize you helped that man who was intubated weeks later lift a cup to his mouth, his muscles weakened from weeks on the ventilator. You were able to comfort the man climbing out of bed, holding his hand until his medications calm him. You make sure the once-healthy, now dying woman dies in comfort and with dignity. You gave the medication that slows the man’s heart so he goes on to make a full recovery. You will update families whether it’s good news or bad. I will be there. I am there because I have a community behind me who gave me the courage to walk through the doors. You had my back, and I will have yours.
A big thank you to all who donated. It made a difference.