The gap between preparing to care for a patient with possible Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) and actually providing that care can be a big jump. Since July, UCMC nurses, physicians and other care providers have gone through extensive EVD-related training and preparation; but, on the evening of Oct. 21, that training was put to the test when the Medical Center accepted a patient who was transferred from the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
In this Q and A, two of the nurses who volunteered for this unique duty recalled their training and their experiences of that evening. Their identities are withheld for privacy reasons.
Why did you volunteer for this unique assignment?
Nurse A: I personally really enjoy medical mission work outside of the US and have gone on many trips to third world countries caring for pediatric patients. So, I thought, if I can go to third world countries to care for others, I can certainly serve here during this world crisis within the U.S. So, I signed up.
Nurse B: I volunteered primarily because I had never done something like this. In my nursing career of almost nine years, the opportunity to be a part of something as big as Ebola has not presented itself. I felt that it was important to train early before Ebola had become an emergency situation in Chicago. Additionally, I decided to volunteer after speaking with a trusted co-worker (Nurse A), who felt that it was very important to provide care for these patients if there became a need.
How would you describe the preparation and training?
Nurse A: The training was excellent. First, it was with highly skilled individuals who wear this type of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) day in and day out at the research labs, so they could share real life experiences. We also had a lot of time to practice over and over how to don and duff the suits. We also spent time practicing in the skills lab using real supplies to do all tasks, simple to complex. I felt highly prepared. I also felt very supported by the administration and fellow staff members. Many people sent messages of encouragement which were very helpful during those three days.
Nurse B: I was in the first round of nurses trained. I felt that it was very good given we had no real life situation to compare it to at the University of Chicago. The support services went above and beyond to ensure that we had all the equipment we felt we needed, with no questions asked. Our safety was of great importance to those training, to administration, and to the infection control staff. We made lists, communicated with infection control, and brainstormed ideas on how to make the improvements to both training and actual patient care.
How would you characterize the actual experience of tending to a patient?
Nurse A: I honestly was scared at first when everyone who wasn’t going to be caring for the patient left and it was just the four of us standing there waiting for the door to open and the patient to arrive. We all looked at each other and I thought, “We are a team and we’re going to be great.” Once the door actually opened, I just went into my nursing mode and got to work. Our young patient needed my help, and I was ready to do just that. I just wanted to provide the best care possible so that she could get better. Working with the PPE on wasn’t as cumbersome as I thought it might be. Our team of nurses, doctors and infection control specialists worked so hard at watching over each other, reminding each other of all the steps to make sure we were all safe. We really began to rely on each other right away on a very high level.
Nurse B: The experience was surreal. It was clear looking into the faces of everyone involved that everyone was scared of what was going to roll into our hospital. We felt ready, but you felt that now it was the real deal, and those who had helped to prepare wished that we had another day to prepare more. After everyone left the quarantine area, my good friend (Nurse A) was in suit and ready to accept the patient. It was very emotional. I never thought I would be giving a good friend a hug in a Tyvex suit and respirator and pleading to please be careful. This experience brought so many people together from across the University of Chicago. It was amazing collaborating with so many members of our health care team at the University. I would happily volunteer again to provide care and support for the patient and staff.
What advice or encouragement would you give others who are interested in this kind of service?
Nurse A: First take time to examine the possibility. Don’t just rule it out because you’re scared. I learned a lot about teamwork and providing the highest quality patient care in the midst of stressful challenges. If your family situation allows, then you can do this!
Nurse B: I think I learned that you have to be patient and you have to breathe. It was easy to get nervous in the Tyvex suit and respirator. There is an immediate bond formed once you enter the quarantine unit. We all depended upon one another for so much more than just providing quality medical care. There were lots of thumbs up given through the windows and “c’mon, Cinderella, we gotta get your foot in this shoe cover” moments that really made this a positive experience.