On March 20, 2020 I created a blog category called, “Covid Diary.” I had just come back from a vacation, and while I was away, the world had changed. COVID-19 went from being a blip on my news feed to a full on worldwide panic. I had this idea in my head that as a nurse, I should be documenting this interesting time in history. As a hospice nurse, I believed I would be in the trenches of the pandemic. I expected to come in contact with many COVID patients. I was nervous, and afraid of catching this unknown virus; but also excited to be a nurse during a pandemic.
Turns out I was wrong. So totally wrong.
First of all, the COVID-19 patients of 2020 didn’t tend to get to go to inpatient hospice. They went straight from the ventilator to the “celestial discharge,” if you know what I mean. At any rate, our much bigger unit across town was getting ready to convert a whole floor to be the designated “COVID Hospice Unit,” so all COVID patients would be diverted there.
I ended up working on my tiny 10 bed hospice unit throughout the whole pandemic, and barely saw a single COVID+ patient. In a way, I kind of ended up with the best possible scenario as far as maintaining my own safety, and my own sanity. I was safe because I had no COVID patients. I was sane because I could leave the house and go to my job, while my husband and kids were constantly cooped up with nowhere to go. I almost felt guilty, joyfully cruising down an empty highway to get to work, a highway that was usually crowded with NSA employees driving to and from work.
Conjunctivitis and COVID-19
But then that “safe” feeling began to erode. There was a story about the first COVID nursing home outbreak in Kirkland, Washington (February 2020) in which a nurse spoke about “red eyes,” as a COVID warning sign:
“We’ve had patients that just had the red eyes as the only symptom that we saw and go to the hospital and pass away.”
Towards the end of March, we started noticing that some of our patients had the “red eyes.” We were also getting lots of respiratory patients with copious secretions. Meanwhile, we had no PPE except for surgical masks, which we were discouraged from wearing. I forwarded the red eye news article to our medical director. He didn’t think much of it, and didn’t see the need to test the patients. At the time there wasn’t much testing available, unless you were say, a celebrity like Tom Hanks. I’ll never know what the COVID status of those patients were. They were hospice patients so they were most likely going to die. But at least two of the patients had stabilized (before the onset of the “red eyes”) and could potentially have been discharged to a nursing home. Both of those stable patients got the “red eyes” and died within days.
Meanwhile we did not have any PPE in March 2020. Maybe a surgical mask here and there, but we were discouraged from wearing them. Until one of the nurses spoke up and a local news channel picked up the story. Perhaps I will tell that story next.