‘I knew this was going to be an issue.’ L.A. nurse describes life within the early days of the pandemic

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I’m a medical-surgical nurse in an acute care unit. I’m additionally an oncology nurse. I deal with a variety of lymphomas and leukemias, the sorts of most cancers that folks should be hospitalized for a few week whereas they obtain remedy.

I keep in mind the final time I used to be in a gathering with a lot of individuals: Jan. 27. That date simply rings in my ear, in my head. Somebody requested me, “What do you consider this coronavirus?” As a result of I are inclined to stay on the upcoming doom aspect, I used to be like, “Nicely, it could possibly be actually dangerous.” However then I believed, Perhaps I’m being dramatic. So I began to observe the LA County COVID-19 clock, a Division of Public Well being web site that tracks coronavirus infections and deaths. I keep in mind after we had been at 20 instances, and we’ve now surpassed 275,000.

By mid-February, I knew that this was going to be an issue. From March 3 to five, my good friend had a fiftieth birthday celebration and all of us went to Minnesota. I used to be actually scared to go. The next Thursday, the pandemic was declared. I keep in mind hugging a good friend and nearly crying. I believed, That is the final time I’m ever going to hug someone. I nonetheless keep in mind that final embrace. I don’t assume I’ve hugged anyone since.

Earlier than my hospital had strict coronavirus isolation insurance policies in place, in April 2020, I used to be uncovered to a coronavirus-positive affected person. I used to be the lead nurse that day and I needed to help one other nurse in a bloody 90-minute process. This affected person had HIV, so I had gowned up with double gloves and I wore a face defend.

The next day, I used to be about to exit for a stroll after I obtained a name from the hospital. They informed me I had been uncovered to a affected person who was constructive for COVID-19, however they informed me I might nonetheless work so long as I wasn’t symptomatic.

I used to be shocked. The Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention (CDC) was advising that when you’re uncovered, you’re purported to quarantine for 14 days. I had this second of feeling actually deserted, scuffling with determining the best factor to do. I instantly felt that I used to be going to be alone in it. That’s the most important scary a part of this virus: the isolation of being sick and being alone.

I keep in mind one other nurse telling me, “Simply take depart. Perhaps you may come again at any time when.” I used to be like, “What? Are you going to kick me out now? As a result of this calling to be a nurse, it’s actually true. I wish to be there.” I used to be confused, upset, emotional. I didn’t know what to do.

At that time, checks weren’t available. I took a break day, utilizing my sick depart, engaged all my organizer buddies, and eventually discovered a clinic. I drove an hour and a half. I begged them to check me. They mentioned, “Tremendous, however don’t inform your pals as a result of we gained’t check them.”

Then different organizer buddies discovered an ear, nostril, and throat physician at my hospital who mentioned, “We’ll check you, don’t fear. Give our quantity to each nurse on the hospital.” I gave the quantity to my supervisor and to all people else who was uncovered. All people was in a position to get examined.

I went to my organizing group for assist as a result of I understood that this was a political downside. The Meals and Drug Administration (FDA), the CDC, different international locations had been making an attempt to offer us entry to testing. However with Trump, america was refusing assist, deciding to make its personal checks. This finally put us far behind in with the ability to isolate or quarantine individuals. Folks ought to nonetheless get examined, however contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine basically solely work at the start of an outbreak. We’re past that now.

At first of COVID-19, it was actually chaotic; we didn’t have tight methods in place. We had been penalized for sporting masks—and nurses had been exhibiting up with N95s and face shields. We had been very restricted on what private protecting gear (PPE) we might have; we needed to show we wanted them. And we’re an oncology unit—we’ve got to guard our sufferers who’ve weakened or no immune methods!

Now we display screen each affected person who’s admitted to the hospital for COVID-19. However for a number of months, it felt like there have been no procedures in place to guard us. I believe my preliminary expertise modified the coverage.

On the finish of June, although, I discovered I had been uncovered twice for the reason that first time. A few of my sufferers had initially examined adverse however began to have signs of COVID-19—fever, cough, quick coronary heart charges, and many others.—and we determined to retest them. That they had “transformed”—now they examined constructive. I used to be additionally requested to be a part of a COVID-19 unit, and I labored there for six weeks. Whether or not you’re on a COVID-19 or non-COVID-19 unit, the hazard of being uncovered is in all places.

Working in a hospital like mine, time and time once more, you notice that you’re underfunded, understaffed, underresourced. You notice that problems with well being and wellness are usually not properly understood—that social and political situations create poverty and sickness. That is what propelled me to change into an organizer. I began to see how state violence maintains situations of in poor health well being.

For instance, throughout COVID-19, Los Angeles has utterly deserted the group of Skid Row. There’s no meals, housing, and even clear water to scrub one’s arms. In response, organizations like Los Angeles Group Motion Community have created mutual help packages that not solely present wholesome meals, but in addition construct hand-washing services all through the group. The town has given up, however we’ve got not!

I’ve been concerned within the protests and uprisings round police brutality in Los Angeles, and I’m not the one one. Some medical doctors and managers at my hospital have proven up, which is nice. It makes me really feel not alone, makes me really feel proud. I’ve been actually glad to see on each flyer, “Masks up!” However I’ve additionally seen these rallies with individuals simply standing there and shouting. I’m like, “Simply march! Please begin transferring! Transfer via the air, open it up, take the streets. Simply unfold out, unfold out.”

Persons are prepared to threat their lives, and never simply in opposition to the police and getting shot with rubber bullets and getting tear-gassed and hit with batons. They’re prepared to threat their well being. It’s like, “I’ll get a virus that will kill me.” And that’s superb as a result of in opposition to all odds, we’re placing ourselves on the market. The momentum is so robust proper now. We’re prepared to do something proper now for freedom.

Within the context of COVID-19 and rebellion, we have to embrace that this insurrection is absolutely about structural racism. It’s about how the Black group has been disenfranchised—from well being care, housing, colleges, land—after which managed, contained, and criminalized by the police. We’re not going to get out of this pandemic alive and protect the lives of Black individuals except these issues are addressed.

That’s why Black individuals are disproportionately dying of COVID-19—as a result of every thing you hear is about “COVID constructive, COVID adverse.” None of it’s in regards to the structural points that trigger hypertension, diabetes, coronary heart failure—all this stuff that make you inclined to dying of COVID-19. Structural racism is killing Black individuals alongside the police.

At first of the pandemic, I used to be seeing nurses drop like flies—go on depart, shed extra pounds. Now, we’re readjusting. I miss with the ability to hug my fellow nurse buddies, as a result of we’d like that camaraderie. I miss not being afraid to the touch the affected person, a form of closeness that you can have with out concern.

The job’s already laborious. It was already a disaster; it was already back-breaking. It was already a job that made you cry. However I cherish how robust all people is.

Virginia Eubanks is an affiliate professor of political science on the College at Albany, SUNY and co-editor of the Digital Welfare State venture at the moment incubating within the Voice of Witness Story Lab.