It’s something she never thought she’d experience, but Irene Arevalo Jimenez, BSN, RN-BC, is one of Southern New Hampshire Medical Center’s healthcare workers on the front lines of COVID-19.
This pandemic is challenging them physically, mentally, and emotionally, but still our staff at both SNHMC and Elliot Health System remain focused on one mission: Beat COVID-19.
Arevalo Jimenez is in the heart of a COVID-19 unit. She’s working on 4 West, now known as “COVID Cove.” It’s the designated COVID-19 med/surg floor at SNHMC. All the rooms are negative pressure to protect staff while caring for patients with airborne diseases.
When our unit was first designated as the COVID-19 floor there were so many big changes – rearranging units and staff, closing off the hospital to visitors, concerns about PPE supplies, and we all had to reinforce our training to protect ourselves and our patients, and what seemed like panic all around – people were scared and we were preparing ourselves to do battle,” Arevalo Jimenez said.
In just a matter of weeks since the pandemic began, she says the unit learned a lot about the virus, how it’s come to the community, and how to prevent its spread. She says staff also reassured family and patients of the confidence of the unit in providing great care for COVID-19 patients.
Most of the patients that go to 4 West have suspicious symptoms and are sick enough to require medical care while they are tested for COVID-19. “Those patients come to our unit from the ED, usually stable, and are considered mild cases, but very often, within a few hours they spike uncontrollable fevers and their oxygen saturations drop, requiring more oxygen support. Many end up needing ICU care and are ultimately transferred,” Arevalo Jimenez explains.
When entering a patient’s room, staff must wear an N95 or CAPR mask, gloves, and a single-use gown. Those wearing N95 masks also don face shields to protect their masks, so they can be reused throughout the shift. Everyone at the hospital is also required to wear a surgical mask or homemade mask in non-clinical areas.
“It is not another flu. COVID-19 is a new virus, actually a very complicated and intricate virus. Therefore, we have very little knowledge of it,” said Arevalo Jimenez. “We still don’t fully understand how to properly treat it and how to prevent it.”
Many patients on 4 West have recovered from COVID-19, but many of them have required a long stay at the hospital. “It is very emotional to watch your patients be admitted with classic symptoms, later confirm they have COVID-19, and quickly they get worse. As a nurse, it brings me so much joy to watch them recover and pushes me to want to continue caring for them, even if it’s putting me at risk,” she said.
After work, Arevalo Jimenez takes extra precautions to keep the virus away from her home. She has work clothes, car clothes, and a long set of safety measures she takes before finally being able to shower and relax.
Her message to the community: “It is very tough to be a nurse today, please pray for us, stay home for us, and, most importantly please appreciate our effort by supporting us.”