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The front line of COVID-19

Story by Kate Decker (Journalism 101 student)

The faces of those on the COVID-19 front line are covered by masks pulled tight over their mouth and nose with their eyes exposed to show the strain of harrowing realities.

Nurses do not only look like heroes, they are. They look like prisoners, too. They look like saviors. They look like victims. They look tired and tireless, committed and conflicted. They are in an inconceivable spot, but right where we need them as the world grapples with an overwhelming force.

They are versatile people in a complex profession, rushing to a disaster’s epicenter while the rest of us stay home battling boredom and watch our lives pass by one day after another in a state of careful panic.

Every health care professional performing this lifesaving work risks contracting this virus that has killed more than 75,577 people in this country alone, upended daily life and brought the world’s largest economy to its knees.

Meet Ali Buscemi, a 30-year-old nurse who has been working at Sharp Rees-Stealy urgent care in downtown San Diego for the last six years. She is used to working incredibly busy days at the urgent care during normal times, but treating patients with the Coronavirus has presented unique changes and challenges.

“Anyone that comes to the urgent care with any respiratory symptoms, even if they are minor, they are not allowed to step foot inside the building. They get screened three different times before they are even admitted into our outside respiratory tents where they will be treated.”

Ali said in an interview, “All Covid-19 patients or potential infected patients that are showing symptoms and have respiratory issues all get treated in the respiratory tents we have outside the building, they never come inside. That is the best we can do to try and eliminate the chance of regular non symptomatic patients we have from being exposed to the virus.” She added that it is okay to go to the urgent care to be treated for something other than the Coronavirus. There is no exposure to the virus inside the clinic and they are constantly, constantly, constantly disinfecting and making sure the patient beds and areas are clean for every single patient.

One of Ali’s biggest challenges working on the front line fighting this invisible killer has been the interaction she has with her Covid-19 positive patients. So far, she has had five patients she was responsible for who were infected with the virus. She said, “The patient interaction is one part about my job that I really love, and with so many unknowns especially in the beginning of all of this, we have to be as cautious as we possibly can and try to limit interaction except when necessary. It is very hard to see these patients on their death bed by themselves alone. I feel like the patient’s nurse is the only person they have in that moment, and I can’t even give them a smile with a few words of encouragement because I have a mask on my face at all times so you can’t even see my facial expressions. It is just sad and a bit hard because you want to offer more.”

Ali and all her colleagues are always strapped up in their protective gear whenever they are around the positive patients to help prevent contracting the virus themselves. Their personal protective gear consists of an N-95 face mask, eye goggles, a face shield, gloves, a yellow gown on top of an orange gown, a hair net, and lastly shoe booties. Ali has been told by the doctors she works for to conserve her gear because they do not have an unlimited supply.

During these stressful and trying times, it is the sisterhood and close friendship bonds Ali has formed with her colleagues that is helping them cope with the stresses of working on the front line. She also said they have been getting a ton of food donations to their clinic from people showing their gratitude every day, and that makes them feel appreciated.

“There was this old lady like about 94 that came in the other day for something non-COVID related, and as she was leaving, she stopped and grabbed around my upper arm gently and looked me in the eyes and said, “Thank you so much for everything you are doing right now. You are appreciated more than words can ever tell, and I just want you to know that. Keep up the good work. You are a hero and thank you.” 

Ali also had words of advice for how regular citizens can make things easier for those who are working on the front lines. “Wash your hands, wash your hands again, and wash your hands again. Wash your hands throughout the day constantly for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap, and STAY HOME!” She says, “We stay here for you, will you please stay home for me?”

Featured image by Meer/The Telescope.

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