He is a hero. He says No … but he is: a Canadian front line Registered Nurse, working in a US hospital with patients who others might try to avoid.
He’s also a friend I’ve known for more than 30 years.
And he has allowed me to share a letter … and the message … he sent me days ago:
“Hey Harv, I miss you . Hope you are staying safe and staying healthy… and at home as much as possible.. please wear a mask.
Ya I’m in the middle of it. It’s not like I work in the ICU. Those folks are the real heroes. I don’t have any vents here, But the majority of my patients are homeless, are mentally ill, and/ or are addicts and alcoholics… end result they are at a higher risk of being infected than most people.
“If you’ve ever seen a homeless shelter you would understand. Imagine 200 people, unwashed, no access to showers, hand sanitizer etc , sleeping on yoga mats on a church basement floor, usually with less than two feet away from the next persons… on the street is just as bad, out in the cold, the rain, sleeping under a bridge or in a doorway..
Our patients rarely have insurance or the cognitive abilities to know how to apply for Social Security Insurance, and often require prolonged hospitalization to stabilize their condition, only to relapse or stop being medication compliant once discharged , thus starting the cycle all over again, beginning with the police bringing them in, often shivering, naked, “strung out”/intoxicated and/or psychotic. We often see the same patients several times a years, month after month or multiple times each month. In reality the vast majority require long term institutionalization, but so many of the mental health institutions were shut down back in the 1970’s, so today there are only about 5 % of the beds available that were there in the 70’s, and most of the addiction treatment programs only accept private insurance.
Currently about a dozen of my coworkers in this department, have become infected. Many have become infected from psychotic and violent patients, who come in fighting, biting, spitting and now, intentionally coughing on staff. Almost every one of our staff have been assaulted. I personally have been bit several times, have required sutures, have been punched, and even choked unconscious once.
In the entire building where my department is located (as a satellite location away from the main hospital) we have only one PAPR (Powered Air-Purifying Respirator) for the entire building, which includes several floors in inpatient Psych, a Chemical dependency detox unit, Methadone/Suboxone Clinics etc.
i95 masks are in high demand and/or just not available for our building. Since we have only one PAPR, that PAPR gets used daily , again and again. Each time it must be decontaminated before and after use, and the battery pack fully charged. You do not want to run out of power, … imagine trying to breath in a plastic bag…. and more than a few of us have came close to passing out because the battery ran out in the course of a COVID Testing (the Swab up the nose) procedure.
Most of the time we use simple surgical masks with a face shield (not acceptable when doing COVID testing) . Since we are being told to reuse our masks over and over again, some of us have resorted to putting paper-towels or coffee filters inside them. We are not supposed to (per management) but it seems safer, especially when for example I’ve had to use the same mask for over two weeks. Over a twelve to sixteen hour shift those masks get pretty moist and it is nice to be able to change the paper-towel/coffee-filter a few times a shift.
When this whole thing began, I told my wife that she should move in with her sister and her family. Instead she suggested I move into the basement den. I set up a makeshift shower in the garage (garden hose from laundry sink) and for the last almost three months have not been in the same room. When I get in, I strip and shower in the garage. All my cloths get immediately washed and everything from my badge, belt , shoes, keys, cell phone etc get disinfected.
The entire house smells of bleach & Lysol as everything is being routinely wiped down. Its has become normal to walk around with a latex glove on and a wet wash cloth (with disinfectant) wiping down everything you touch as you go. The closest I’ve come to my wife is through a vinyl shower curtain that separates the dining room so we can kinda have dinner together, but otherwise we are masked and are seldom ever in the same room together. What I wouldn’t give to be able to hug, to kiss on the forehead, but i can’t. I know dozens of staff who are going through variations of the same scenario, from the care-giver sleeping in a camper in the driveway because his child has Cerebral Palsy & Autism, to nurse living in the She-Shed in the back yard….. Doctors, Respiratory Therapists, Nurses like myself who so desperately want to hug our families.
At present, I have lost two friends, nurses like me, to COVID. They died in hospital on a vent, and their families were not able to come say good-bye.
When I see people in the grocery store who refuse to wear masks, or pictures and videos of packed bars, Terrorists with no mask but instead an assault weapon, I get so angry. I would never wish this illness on anyone. Maybe if they get sick, they’ll be strong enough not get seriously ill, but what of the hundreds of persons that they infect, and those that these people also infect, directly or indirectly, they could be responsible for infecting someone’s elderly parents, a spouse with diabetes or hypertension, someone’s child with special needs, cerebral palsy, immune deficiencies, even simple asthma. So why can’t they wear a mask when they go into the grocery store or the post office?
After a month of wearing masks, twelve and sixteen hours a day, the back of my ears had started to breakdown from the elastic constantly rubbing on the area, and one day I realized I had started bleeding. I’ve since got creative with rubber bands, and the area is finally healed, but most of us have bruise lines across our noises or on our cheeks from our masks.
I do not think wearing my mask is a loss of my freedom. I think that with freedom comes responsibility.
Now that I have had the chance to vent, I just want your readers to answer themselves one question: if they chose not to wear a mask, to please think of your family, your parents, your children, your coworkers or neighbors families, and ask yourself, whom of them would I be willing to kill so that I’m not inconvenienced by wearing a mask. Its not an easy question to ask yourself. No decent human being could make that decision.
Hugs my friend.
(Name withheld at his request.)
Not much I can add to that, to repeat my HERO friend’s appeal: as you’re out and about and as we open stores, cafes, restaurants, barbers, salons, etc. …. WEAR A MASK.
The life you save may be your own … or someone you love.
(Reminder: You can get First Alerts to all new posting on my blog by following @harveyoberfeld on Twitter. No spam … just First Alerts of new topics.)