I won’t sacrifice myself when I can’t get a damn mask


Nurses are responsible for patient care. They are the ones at the bedside 24/7. There is no one who spends more time with individual patients. They are the ones most in danger in the coronavirus pandemic.

The news gets grimmer every day about the inevitable surge coming across the country. Forecast of death tolls in the 100,000 to 200,000 range, if not higher, is terrifying.  If the death toll is that high, imagine what the hospitals will look like?  No matter what, the nurses will be at the bedside, or will they?

Nurses have been given such mixed messages about personal protective equipment, it’s hard to know which end is up.  Wear the N95. You don’t need the N95; a simple mask is sufficient. It’s OK to wear the same mask all day while going from patient to patient. Give us your mask at the end of the day, so we can “disinfect” it.  If you are exposed to coronavirus patients, it’s OK to work until you develop symptoms.

Sorry, we are running out of masks. There won’t be enough masks. If it comes down to it, wear a bandana across your face.  You could try to fashion your own PPE like health care workers in other countries.  In other words, good luck with all this, we expect you to keep working. By the way, if you talk about any of this in public, you will be fired.  And on and on and on.

I saw a video of a nurse crying today because she had just quit her ICU job. When she came to work in a place with coronavirus ICU patients, no one was wearing masks.  She was expected to suck it up and deal with it.  She decided no, she wasn’t going to and quit.

Nurses are dying from coronavirus. Doctors, too. In Spain, according to NBC news, 10,000 health care workers have become sick with the virus, 12% of the total positive cases.

Hey, put that all aside, you’re a nurse. You knew what you were getting into, right?  Nurses (and other health care workers)  are expected to be willing to sacrifice themselves for the cause. It’s what the public expects.

Health care workers in this country are already getting sick, and we are just getting started.  A nurse in New York died last week after testing positive.  Thousands of nurses will get sick. Some will die. Their loss will put more pressure on the nurses left behind.

There will come a time when nurses will say: enough.  I won’t sacrifice myself when I can’t even get a damn mask. Then they will walk away.

Susan Shannon is a retired nurse who blogs at madness: tales of a retired emergency room nurse.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com


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