Emily Luther, 40, is a registered nurse (RN) from Brandon, Mississippi who was on crisis assignment for the COVID-19 virus, traveling and working out of her home state in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There, she worked on COVID-19 screenings at a testing and screening facility that later transformed into a mobile hospital.
My first day at the screening facility was interesting — meeting new friends and fellow nurses, the doctors and nurse practitioners that were on site with us. We had a handful of patients come through that day. Mostly with concerns that they had been exposed to COVID-19 from a friend or co-worker. Feelings from the day varied from concern of exposure myself, health of the people coming in, to exhaustion from being outside in the Florida heat for 12 hours.
We were on site at the tented screening facility for four full days (the screening facility was originally open around the clock, then reconstruction was started to transition the site into the mobile hospital). We were all just told this is the change that is occurring, and there weren’t other options presented at the time (a few weeks later, options were presented to move locations, such as towns, if desired). Our site was made a lot larger, with the capacity to hold more patients.
The transition was a bit nerve racking. There were definitely a lot of high anxiety moments and moments of uncertainty with what the transition would hold, exactly what types of patients we would have coming in, and exactly what type of care we would be asked to provide. We all had signed up to be a part of testing and screening facilities, so changing to potential bedside nursing was an unexpected change. Our facility went from a mobile screening site to a mobile hospital set up with the capacity to take 250 patients, including two ventilators, to take any load off of local hospitals.
Unfortunately, I came home before the mobile hospital itself started accepting patients. I honestly don't know if this was the norm or not, as this was my first travel assignment ever.
My hours on site were 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., daily. During the reconstruction, I was on standby for eight hours each day. Standby days were spent at our hotel. My typical day prior to this assignment was anywhere from six to 10 hours a day, so 12-hour days were a change.
Assessing symptoms on site involved checking vital signs, which include blood pressure, temperature, pulse, respirations, and oxygen levels. Temperature and oxygen levels are very important to monitor with COVID-19 patients, along with asking the patients what illness symptoms they were experiencing — cough, fever, trouble breathing to name a few.
Patients would approach our main site tent, the welcome/triage tent, be given a mask to put on — if they did not already have one — be directed to hand sanitizing stations, then walk into the welcome tent. Once inside the tent, a nurse would get their name, date of birth, and age, and give them a number, if needed. They would then be directed to a triage nurse, who would ask them what symptoms they were experiencing, cough, fever, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, etc. and check their vitals as listed above. The triage nurse would determine if the patient needed to be seen by a nurse practitioner, or the doctor, or if they needed emergent treatment. The nurse practitioners and the physicians would perform a thorough physical assessment and determine from there if the patient could go home to self quarantine and self monitor symptoms, if they needed to be tested and give out testing site info, or in emergent cases, go to an ER. An ambulance and EMTs were on site for any needed transport to a local hospital.
On site days, everyone was pretty exhausted at the end of the day. But there was plenty of time to develop friendships and a sense of community together. Those friendships and that sense of community continued to develop even on our standby days. I definitely got closer to the friends and co-workers I went with and developed new lifelong friendships as well. There's definitely nothing stronger than the bond of a nursing community.
Now, I’m back home. I returned home on April 12 after two-and-a-half weeks in Fort Lauderdale. After a 14 day quarantine and another week at home, I’ve returned to my job at home working post-op and pre-op in an endoscopy center on limited hours. The cleaning process between patients is extensive and therefore slows down the patient flow, which in turn allows for us to schedule less patients daily per doctor. Wearing PPE is specific to which area you are assigned each day.
Now that I am home, I really do wish the average person truly knew just how serious this virus really is and truly just how much so very many nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, and all healthcare workers are giving up and risking to get the American people through this.
After being a part of it, and really in it, for more than two weeks (18 days total), the biggest silver lining has just been the experience itself. To travel as a nurse during the first and hopefully only pandemic my generation will see — to be a part of that, no matter how small — is quite overwhelming to take in at times. It was a great experience that I couldn’t have done without my friends, co-workers, and fellow nurses also there — and my family from afar, especially my husband. What's given me the strength to put myself in harm’s way every day is my faith that God is watching over me, lots of prayers from family and friends, and the fact that I had several friends working there with me from home.
Honestly, the next few months are still unclear. With so many changes, almost daily, life as we knew it at the beginning of March 2020 may never return as it once was. Slowly, my job here at home is working to safely get back to a new normal, my husband’s job is opening his travel schedule back up, which had been suspended, and hopefully school will resume in the fall, in a more normal classroom setting. Right now, we’re trying to focus on staying healthy, and looking forward to no online homeschool assignments, and praying for a potential summer vacation.
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