Travel Nurses Share Stories from the COVID-19 Front Lines
Shannon, 35, BSN RN CCRN, is a travel ICU nurse and is currently on assignment in a COVID-19 affected area. She shared her story about working on the frontlines with TravelNursing.org.
I’ve gone from concern to disbelief to total panic and back again many times.
She has documented many of her travel nursing adventures on her Instagram account, @headstandsonholiday, and has continued to speak about the conditions that travel nurses and nurses are facing in working through COVID-19.
Here, Shannon tells us what she is currently experiencing as a travel ICU nurse on the frontlines:
Did you volunteer to sign up for a COVID-19 assignment?
Yes, my contract was ending as COVID was ramping up here in the U.S. I was supposed to go on a trip to South East Asia but obviously, that’s put on hold indefinitely. I explored some crisis contracts with my recruiter and even submitted to one place that was paying higher than I’m making.
I ended up just submitting for an extension at my current assignment after talking to my mom. She asked me not to put myself into immediate danger if I didn’t have to. After signing my extension contract, I got a call from a recruiter about a week later and he told me that I’d be getting crisis pay for my entire extension. I was stoked so I re-signed at the higher rate. And here I am. We haven’t seen the surge of COVID patients lots of bigger cities have seen yet and only started even having positive cases this week.
What is the PPE situation at your facility?
The policy about PPE has changed dramatically over the last several weeks. First, they asked us to be “good stewards” about our PPE (basically don’t wear a mask unless it’s indicated). Then they said we can’t wear our own masks from home.
Since March 12, I’ve been wearing a simple mask every day. For a while, I was the only one. These days, masks aren’t mandatory for all staff, but managers and charge nurses aren’t telling anyone to take them off. With regards to COVID patients, they are asking us to use “enhanced droplet precautions” so basically they followed the CDC guidelines of “droplet unless performing an aerosolized procedure” which is not good enough if you ask me.
All evidence on the internet points to this virus being airborne for hours after aerosolization. In addition, many patients aren’t getting tested/aren’t showing symptoms. So, once again, this is an example of healthcare being reactive instead of proactive. Yes, we do have PPE, but I’m uninterested in any policy that doesn’t adequately protect me so I’ve been going into my COVID and COVID PUI rooms with a PAPR or an N95. I wear a simple mask at all other times.
We’re not really rationing PPE yet but we’ve been asked to clean and reuse our PAPR shields. Additionally, I’ve worked as a nurse in 3 states and have friends in healthcare all over the U.S.
A classmate from nursing school literally begged for people to send her PPE on Facebook. She works in the Bronx. A friend from high school had donated a box of n95 masks to me, so I turned around and sent 10 to the girl in the Bronx the next day.
How are you feeling working as a nurse through this pandemic?
I’ve gone from concern to disbelief to total panic and back again many times. There have been lots of tears and panic attacks and feelings of helplessness. It started in late January for me. My worst week was in mid-March when it just felt like the walls were closing in and no one I knew in the US was prepared for it.
Now, several weeks in, I’ve adjusted to the new normal. And I know I can do this job and do it well and take care of these patients as long as I have the right PPE. But I still get anxiety the night before my Monday of my work stretch. It feels like the same sort of anxiety I used to have as a new grad and a new ICU nurse many years ago. It’s a bad feeling. What will I encounter today?
What would you advise travel nurses considering working in a COVID area?
My biggest encouragement to nurses everywhere is to take care of yourself first. Health over wealth.
To travelers: don’t settle for any agency or facility that doesn’t prioritize your health and wellbeing. Our work is essential, yes, but we can’t do our jobs without the proper tools. And wear a mask no matter what anyone tells you.