It was a year ago that Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered California to go on lock down. The rest of the country soon followed. It has been a dizzying year of illness, death, misinformation, contradictions, confusion, loneliness, isolation and political extremism. In my work as an RN, I’ve seen much of the negative psycho-social consequences of the response to the pandemic. Especially among the elderly, with whom I work.
I have also seen the virus kill more than a dozen people who didn’t need to die.
The response to the pandemic affected everyone. And since I work in healthcare, it affected me too. When I first started nursing, I worked in a hospital where we didn’t even have pumps for IV’s. We had to calculate drip rates — I’m not even sure if they teach that anymore in nursing schools.
Back then, we were worried about HIV. It was new and scary and even though it had been around for four or five years, we still didn’t know much about the virus. Just like today there were racial implications around the virus as it was first discovered among the Haitian population. Suddenly bodily fluids became a big deal and we were frightened of a needle stick. We were frightened of HIV but we also knew the odds of getting it were quite small if we practiced universal precautions.
Of course, nobody thought it was a violation of liberty to wear gloves while working with a patient. We knew it was for our protection.
As an RN, the coronavirus was scarier for me because it is airborne. It affects a much larger segment of the population. I knew the odds were much greater that I would contract the virus. And being a seasoned nurse, I had several risk factors that meant that I had a much higher risk of being planted in a grave should I contract the virus.
And around here, it didn’t take long before there was push back against public health measures by a loud and vocal group who didn’t buy into the danger of the virus. These locals followed the right-wing line of thought that saw public health measures as evidence of a tyrannical, out-of-control government.
And as a nurse, having worked through a prior epidemic with AIDS where we took public health measures seriously because it protected us — now with a virus that is much easier to get, wearing a mask became a political act. In Shasta County, local extremists chided supervisors for wearing masks — going so far as to say that the supervisors needed to wear the mask because they were so ugly. That video went viral.
The inevitable happened and I got sick with the virus. Wearing the mask protects others. I was working with clients when I was infectious so we monitored the clients I had been in contact with in addition to the coworkers I had exposed to the virus. Because I wore the mask, no clients or coworkers got the virus from me.
However, I picked up the virus someplace — although the mask protects others, it takes others wearing the mask to protect you. The push back against the mask meant that a much smaller percentage of the population around here wore the mask. The result? I got sick.
I wrote about the illness at the time and it wasn’t fun. It also wasn’t fun knowing that you have a novel disease that, for my age and comorbidity, had a 2-4 percent chance of killing me. I survived the disease but the fatigue that the virus causes has hung on with me for months.
An RN colleague of mine also contracted the virus. She was younger than me with no comorbidity. She didn’t fair as well as I did and was quite ill for over a month. She had problems breathing and probably should have been hospitalized. Nurses make rotten patients.
Of the 534,000 deaths COVID has caused in the United States, 3,544 have been healthcare workers. The Guardian newspaper has been monitoring US healthcare worker deaths. Visiting their website is a sobering experience as they publish photos and the ages of the workers–many of whom were in their 40s and 50s.
Of the 3,544 deaths the Guardian has monitored, 32 percent have been nurses doing direct care of the patients. Physicians account for 17 percent of the deaths. By race, 35 percent of the deaths have been white and 26 percent have been Black. Asian healthcare workers account for 22 percent of the deaths and Hispanics 15 percent.
In California, COVID has killed 320 healthcare workers.
A friend of mine wrote me to tell the story about a local rancher relative of hers who decided not to get the vaccine after talking to an anti-vax nurse at a local healthcare facility. A survey released last week found that 49 percent of Republican men are refusing to get the miraculous vaccine against COVID.
I just don’t get it. We have a safe, effective vaccine that will prevent thousands of deaths and enable us to safely participate with our fellow humans again. President Trump secretly got the vaccine in January.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Sunday that Trump should urge his supporters to get the vaccine. Fauci went on to say, regarding Republican men refusing to get the vaccine, “How such a large proportion of a certain group of people would not want to get vaccinated merely because of political considerations … it makes absolutely no sense.”
The local Tehama County Republican Party could do a whole lot of good if it put out a press release encouraging its party members to get vaccinated against COVID.
Allan Stellar is an RN and a freelance writer who moved to Red Bluff after the Camp Fire. He can be reached at [email protected]