When one nurse chose emergency medicine for its fast paced environment and continual learning, she never dreamed she’d be working through a global pandemic.
Alyssa Piegari has been drawn to the emergency room (ER) ever since she graduated high school. She began her career in medicine as an emergency medical technician. Ten years later, she would go on to earn her Master’s in nursing and the ER would become her second home.
That home is becoming increasingly chaotic.
Piegari is a nurse in a northern New Jersey hospital, just minutes from New York City. Her county has the most cases in the state. The Governor recently requested help from the Army Corps of Engineers to expand hospital and intensive care abilities. Piegari shared that the ER was already a hectic place, short on vital resources.
Now, things are even worse.
If a patient is suspected of having the novel coronavirus or COVID-19, there’s a full donning process before you can enter into their room. Gown, N95 mask, face shield, and gloves. But if you get into that room and its missing things like a blood pressure cuff, which she shared happens often, you have to take everything off and start over. Those vital personal protective equipment (PPE) items are running scarce.
Piegari treated her hospital’s first coronavirus patient.
Piegari shared that if you walk into an ER showing signs and symptoms of a virus you are immediately swabbed and tested for 20 different viruses. The COVID-19 swab takes three to five days for results. Patients who come up negative for the other viruses in the initial scan are then treated as though they are positive for COVID-19 and sent for a CAT scan of their chest.“When you look at the CAT scan pictures of a healthy person compared to one with the beginning stages of the virus, it appears as ground glass looking nodules. It starts with one in the lungs and then spreads like wildfire,” said Piegari. After a few days, those with coronavirus tend to decline quickly, with those patches of ground glass nodules taking over the lungs. This is what leads to death for many patients.
She went on to say that not only is her hospital seeing patients with COVID-19 that have underlying conditions, but people who have no comorbidities or issues. Her hospital recently admitted a patient who was just 23 years old.
Piegari shared that people – possibly even children – are walking around as carriers of this virus, showing absolutely no symptoms. They are living their lives as usual and passing it to people who are getting very ill; and some dying. This is the entire point of social distancing, says Piegari, to stay home and protect your community members. Whatever activity you have planned, it just isn’t worth the lives it impacts.“We are now in a society where the flu is globally accepted. Due to this, people aren’t considerate of others. They’ll still go to the gym, grocery story, and cough and expel the virus; spreading it,” shared Piegari. The most recent study of COVID-19 has shown that it can survive in the air for several hours, posing significant risk to communities and especially medical professionals taking care of these patients.
“Quarantine is a good thing. It is going to take down the number of cases. The mass hysteria that is going around is inappropriate, however. It is causing lack of resources for those that are truly in need,” said Piegari.
This is the reasoning behind the majority of states closing down their businesses, schools, and limiting gatherings. To those that are still taking this virus lightly, they should become concerned. If not for themselves, then for the people around them.
Piegari also encouraged people to call ahead and not just come in. Her hospital in particular has seen a massive influx of people with flu-like symptoms. Even if they do not have the novel coronavirus, they’ve just now exposed themselves to a whole host of viral possibilities.
In the end, Piegari shared that she will continue to go to work, even at the risk of her own health and that of her family. She and many other medical professionals on the front lines deserve our utmost respect and our attention. Listen to them and help slow the spread of this pandemic.
No person is immune.