Interview with an Expert: A Frontline Nurse’s Perspective

Mel Mason, RN, has worked at Tucson Medical Center for about three years. She has frontline experience working with COVID-19 patients and we invited her to share her experiences and thoughts with us. Please note, Mel’s responses do not necessarily reflect those of Tucson Medical Center.   

Q: What activities or practices, outside of the recommended safety guidelines, would you recommend to somebody who is trying to promote their own wellness and health?

It’s hard to make the safest choices for ourselves and others if we are falling apart at the seams. I recommend focusing on mental health. The world is on fire and it behooves us to stay connected to what makes us sane. Fasting from social media can be extremely useful. Using Zoom, FaceTime, or other video conferencing app and scheduling times to virtually hang out with friends and family can help us feel connected and have our feelings validated. 

I’m also a proponent of a whole food, plant-based diet. I want to be as healthy as I can be to prevent becoming infected. The produce section at the grocery store is the best place to do this. I’d recommend people check out www.nutritionfacts.org for advice on what to eat to stay healthy. Additionally, get some fresh air and move around.  

Q: As a nurse, what is the message you want to give to Arizonans about COVID19?

I want people to stop doubting COVID-19 is real, I want them to listen to healthcare workers who deal with it on a daily basis, I want them to stop politicizing a health condition, and I want them to develop empathy for their fellow citizens. Wear masks, stop gathering with people, only go to the store when absolutely necessary, and turn your home into a place you’re interested in hanging out for a while. This will not be going away anytime soon, so we need to adapt to the situation and be respectful of one another. This is going to mean we are all inconvenienced to a degree; allow inconvenience to be a teacher rather than an enemy.

Q: What safety precautions are you taking when you leave the hospital to go home?

I remove my N95 and surgical masks and throw them away at work. I grab a clean surgical mask before heading out the door. I clean my eye protection (plastic glasses) with hydrogen peroxide and leave them in my locker. I have a bag where I place my hospital badge, pens, and trauma shears after wiping them down with hydrogen peroxide. The bag stays in my car. I take off my shoes in my garage. When I walk through the door, I drop my lunchbox on the counter, empty it, and wash the counter, followed by my hands. I immediately walk to the bathroom to take a shower. My scrubs and headband go into the wash afterward. (When I was working in the ER, I removed all of my clothes in the garage, placed them in a plastic garbage bag, and took nothing inside with me. I would run straight to the shower.) 

Q: Do you have any one experience during COVID-19 while in the ER that you would feel comfortable sharing?  

I was on what is referred to as the “B Team”–the team that suits up in their protective gear and waits to see if the A Team needs assistance–outside the room of a patient who was just intubated due to hypoxia from COVID-19. I was asked via walkie talkie to grab a bag of normal saline and enter the room, as the patient’s blood pressure was dropping from the sedation. I walked in, and the whole scene was surreal. It was one other nurse and myself, as the team who performed the intubation had left the room. I couldn’t hear much save for the hum of the oxygen source being pumped into my protective helmet. The patient was naked and covered with a clear, plastic sheet. His eyes were wide open, desperate-looking. I placed the bag of fluid inside the sleeve of a pressure bag, hung it on the IV pole, and repeatedly squeezed the pressure bag pump until the fluid was forced into his body at a high rate of speed. In 5 minutes his pressure was far less critical. I was suddenly very aware of my own breath sounds. I stared at his eyes, wondering who in the outside world was thinking about him. I wondered if he was even remotely aware of what was happening. I’ve worked with plenty of critical patients before, but the quality of this situation was more surreal, most likely because this disease isn’t cut and dry. No one knew what to expect moving forward. The mystery of it made me feel an overwhelming amount of sympathy for the patient and his loved ones. The patient was moved to the ICU shortly afterward, and I have no idea if he survived. 

A further note about Mel: 

After a couple years in the ER department, she transferred to the GI Lab in February 2020. Just two short months later, she was asked to return to the ER to help with the crisis. Right now, she is back in the GI Lab and feels that her risk of contracting the virus is lower than it was while working in the ER, although she still has to be extra cautious. Patients who are scheduled for an upper scope (endoscopy or bronchoscopy) do have to have a negative COVID-19 test result before their procedure, but the procedures Mel and her colleagues perform many times each day do involve exposure to respiratory fluids which may be carrying the virus. She also still sometimes has to return to the ER, a well as ICU and OR, to work on higher risk patients. 

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