Letter to the Editor: My Experience as a Home Health Nurse During Covid
I have been an RN for many years with a lot of clinical experience and education. Most recently I have been a travel RN working in several states over the last five years: from July 2017 to Feb 2022. Most of my assignments were scheduled for 13 weeks.
I was working in a town in North Carolina in March of 2020 when Covid broke out. There was some panic at my nursing organization. No one was sure quite what to expect. There were some strange things that were happening, such as all of the n95 masks being found missing from the supply room. Also, I heard reports on the radio that 500,000 people were expected to die in Houston. The Welcome Center on the interstate highway was to be closed. The legal system in North Carolina was closed. I completed my assignment and returned home to Florida. Would I be able to get gas? Would there be any restrooms open? Would there be any roadblocks between states? I ventured out with a tank full of gas and some food and found the rest stops were indeed open. There were some gas stations open but many were at the pump only. These were for credit card use as they had the inside stores locked.
Once home, I monitored the news for a few months and realized some themes that did not reflect my nursing knowledge. Masks and lockdowns were in full swing then, even though masks have long been known to be minimally effective. Masks were mainly used as splash guards. There was also a lot of fear in the community. Another theme that did not fit was the idea that an asymptomatic person could infect someone else. Usually, one would have to be sick and express a virus into the environment for someone else to become infected. I stayed home a little longer and decided that I would rather get the Covid virus and move on with my life than hide in my home.
In May of 2020, I chose an assignment in New Orleans working with Covid patients. I even received hazard pay. Masks were required when with patients and in the office. This was a busy office and I had many Covid patients. Nurses here were idealized at this time and the Hospitals were passing out yard signs which said “Heroes live here.” I heard some strange stories from patients that did not make any sense. Upon entering one patient’s home for my initial interview, I asked about her diagnosis of Covid and bronchitis. This patient stated that she did not have any Covid and when she asked her doctor about this, he stated “Well you had it a little bit.” There also seemed to be additional leeway on the assessment criteria and this company pushed for patients to be admitted to home care when they might normally not be. I did have one patient that had been on a ventilator for three weeks and was struggling to get back to normal. In general, though, insufficient assessment criteria or insufficient skill was dismissed all in the name of Covid.
The next hazard pay assignment was in Myrtle Beach in December 2020. Masks remained necessary to see patients in their homes and to enter any facility along with temperature tests. At this time, the PCR test was in full swing with the vaccine not far behind. There were lines that formed with people waiting to get tested for Covid. Another meme that developed was that someone could test positive for Covid while not being sick. I was doing more research at this time and found the PCR tests to be random at best. One story that I heard multiple times was that someone would sign up for a Covid test and after waiting multiple hours they would break the line and go back home. Two days later, they would get a letter stating they were “positive” for Covid even though no test had been performed.
Also, vaccines were being released with great fanfare. I was personally skeptical as most of the information did not line up. In the local area lived Hank Aaron, a baseball great, who received the vaccine with notoriety. He was in some type of nursing home. He passed away two weeks later. Another personality who took the vaccine and passed away was Sissy Tyson. I spoke with some nurses in the office and some were getting the vaccine for interesting reasons. One reason was that, if vaccinated, you did not have to wear a mask. This turned out to be short-lived as masks were required anyway. Another nurse got vaccinated because of a planned cruise. I was surprised at how cavalier the reasons were and how accepting most people were of the vaccine. These were nurses that had the same knowledge that I had, or so I thought. Another trend that was developing in this area, was that patients were denied medical procedures unless they were vaccinated. I finished my assignment and returned home. At this time I had never had Covid and had never had the test. On the way home, traveling through Georgia, I was surprised to hear on the radio that the vaccines were “safe and effective.” I had heard reports of multiple deaths at this point. I spoke with my physician during a routine appointment and he told the story of patients who came to the local Emergency Department with any type of respiratory symptoms and were diagnosed with Covid. Many times the Covid test would return as negative but the diagnosis stuck and was never removed.
I took some additional time off now as the vaccine mandates were ramped up and I had come to the conclusion to not be vaccinated. This needed to be the hill I would die on! My immediate family was not vaccinated but my siblings were and my 88-year-old mother was. My mother lives with my sister and I requested that she not be vaccinated. I was ignored even though I had power of attorney. I made multiple trips to visit my family (three hours away) and had to sit in the yard with a mask on to visit my mother because I was unvaccinated. At one point my sister said, “Just get vaccinated.” I was unable to communicate with my family about the problems with this whole debacle as they were unwilling to listen.
My next assignment was in Bluffton SC in December 2021. I applied for two assignments and had to request a religious exemption for both. I had a letter from my pastor that I submitted. This process took six weeks to wind through their systems and then both assignments accepted me on the same day. I accepted the first one and went to work. Masks were still required for patients but not in the office. Most of the staff were vaccinated at this point and many still did not know of any problems with the vaccine. This followed the national rollout of the theme that what we have is a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” I knew this to be complete nonsense. The other theme that was developing with people was the attitude that they were vaccinated once or twice but would not be getting any more. When I asked why there were a myriad of reasons. A developing narrative was floating around that some doctors would not be accepting patients unless they were vaccinated.
Through this process, I am not sure when I realized that the vaccines had nothing to do with Covid. I have several people in my personal circle that had unexplained events occur. Two had weak legs (one of them is unable to walk now), another with a change in personality, and one developed Guillian-barre syndrome at 44. My mother had an episode of squamous cell skin cancer lesion that was removed. It is normally a slow-growing cancer but returned to a very aggressive state. She was hospitalized twice in the summer of 2022 with sepsis related to this tumor. I am happy to say that she is doing well now at ninety. She is a former Hospice nurse.
I am not working at this point as the vaccine requirement seems to be the norm for nurses. Nurses have gone from Heroes to Zeroes in 24 months. Part of me is disappointed as I have a lot of knowledge and experience that is not being utilized. My nursing license is in good standing; however, my faith in our healthcare system is diminished.
A Travel RN