ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Kaitlyn Halbrader and Jackie Abraham are ortho/neuro nurses at SwedishAmerican. Health officials gave Eyewitness News an inside look at a local unit used to treat COVID-19 patients.
The two nurses’ careers didn’t start during a pandemic, as they had to learn how to treat a new type of patient.
“There’s a little anxiety and you can feel that anxiety at times on the floor – especially more at the beginning. Now I feel that we’ve been into it a couple of weeks and that anxiety is a little less on the floor,” Abraham said.
The 10th floor at SwedishAmerican hospital used to be for ortho and neuro patients. But now, it is known as the COVID floor.
“It’s been a complete learning experience. I mean I went from being an orthopedic bedside nurse caring for patients having knees and hips replaced to now caring for people that you just don’t know a lot about this disease process,” Halbrader said.
There a total of 26 beds on the floor. The hospital originally planned for 10. The hospital added a wall to seclude the sickest patients who can still breathe on their own into a negative pressure area on one wing.
Creating “negative pressure” means keeping the air contained in the area until it can be sucked out through special filters. Sometimes patients recover and don’t need to be in the wing. Oftentimes, when patients are moved here, it happens fast.
“We’ve seen patients that are primarily asymptomatic – walking, talking, kind of doing their normal daily activities, to ending up needing to be sent to the ICU, intubated Same patient – within hours. It’s very eye-opening,” Abraham explained.
“You’re seeing people – all walks of life…all ages. You know it’s not like our typical flu season where you’ve got elderly patients and they’re having a hard time breathing. It’s younger patients who don’t have a lot of medical history to patients who may have a lot of medical history,” Halbrader added.
When patients can’t breathe on their own they are rushed to SwedishAmerican’s critical care unit (CCU or ICU). Ginger el Brichi is one of the nurses on the floor. She’s putting her nearly 40 years of experience to work–handling the worst patients. If they’re bad enough to end up in the ICU, most need a ventilator to get oxygen.
“Those lungs are full of water and they’re resistant to being ventilated so it has to push the air in really hard,” Brichi explained.
Swedes has 4 ICU pods, three of them dedicated to COVID-19 patients–a total of 24 ICU beds. There’s also what the hospital calls a “clean pod” in the ICU–6 beds for critical COVID-19 negative patients.
Medical staff have to wear extra gear before they enter each room. The procedure is very specific since those patients pose an extra danger to the medical staff.
“Our fear is different because we have people who are intubated and the ventilators pop apart occasionally so there’s – the virus is aerosolized – and it’s really a lot of fear,” Brichi explained.
Being on a breathing machine for extended period of time carries its own sets of challenges and long term effects for those who beat the virus. Some are on medicine that sedates or paralyzes them.
“They’re gonna be weak. They’re gonna have nightmares. They’re gonna have periods of delirium. They lost a whole month of their life. It’s gone,” Brichi added. “But they’ll have flashbacks and nightmares just like they’ve been in a war. And it’s lifelong.”
In the next part of the series, we’ll be taking a look at the emotional and physical toll the stress is having on front-line workers.
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