This journal will chronicle my subjective experience in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City. This first article will be a sort of preamble, explaining who I am, what the current state of affairs is (for later comparison purposes), how and why I volunteered to be a part of the emergency response, and how I’m preparing to go out. Journal entries hereafter will document my experiences, from my own perspective and observations, while I am out on the disaster site.
I’m currently a nurse practitioner and normally work in an emergency department or urgent care setting. I work as a contractor, so I go from facility to facility and am used to a somewhat unstable work environment, as I don’t really have a “home base.”. I’ve been a contractor for about three years. Prior to becoming a mercenary nurse practitioner, I was a registered nurse working primarily in emergency department settings.Before that, I was a patient care technician in the hospital, mostly in the ICU and ER settings. I’ve also worked in the pre-hospital setting as an EMT-B at various points during my career.
The COVID-19 (coronavirus or novel coronavirus, colloquially) pandemic has been apparent and “real” to the general public here in the US for several weeks. I live in Madison, Wisconsin ; I am writing this journal on March 26th, 2020, as a point of reference for the following timeline. Our state governor declared a state of emergency on March 12th. The next day (March 13th, a Friday), he declared schools statewide would close the following Wednesday, which was later revised to immediate closure. About 10 days following school closure, on March 25th, a shelter-in-place order went into effect, along with closure of all non-essential businesses. Today, March 26th, Wisconsin has 707 confirmed cases and eight deaths. For comparison, New York City currently has over 21,000 confirmed cases and 281 deaths.
That comparison of the major coastal cities like NYC to Wisconsin is the primary reason I decided to seek out a disaster relief contract in a hard-hit area. The facilities I work at in Wisconsin are currently experiencing very low volumes, as most people (wisely) don’t want to be in our waiting rooms during a pandemic. It’s clear to me that Wisconsin is not where my skills are presently needed, andI want to go to a place where my skills are useful. I’m also a healthy person under 45 years old; if I do contract the virus, I’m statistically very unlikely to become seriously ill, so it’s better someone like me get sick than someone in a higher-risk group.
I find most of my contracts through an agency. I contacted my usual agent, who knows me well and found me a contract in NYC fairly quickly. I got the impression that the hospital requesting contractors was rubber-stamping anyone with emergency medicine experience, as they waived my state license requirement (which they have the leeway to do during a declared state of emergency), let me dictate my hours and dates I was willing to go out, and did not even have time to contact me directly for a brief phone interview. They emailed me before confirming my contract to make absolutely sure I understood what I was getting into. In that message, they made it clear they wanted me in the emergency department, not the triage tents set up outside, to help manage an overwhelmingly large number of critically ill patients.
I fly out in three days and will be there for a 10-day block of 12-hour shifts. I’ll return home to Wisconsin for a week, then I’ll fly back out for another 12 days. My primary preparation is securing a food source; grocery stores are open, but the news suggests lines to get in are hours long. I purchased four boxes of protein bars and will bring a large bag of trail mix with me. I’m also planning on packing a bottle of vitamins (which I find unlikely to provide me much protection but won’t hurt anything) and a modest supply of acetaminophen (paracetamol) in case I do contract the virus. I obtained a few waterproof suits (expired from one facility I work at that was giving them away) that I will bring out in case the hospital runs out. Finally, I made three cloth masks with pockets inside that I’ll put an air filter in for use if the hospital runs out of masks.
We’ll see what I’m actually getting into in short order. More when I arrive.
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