Jessica Mahle, BSN, RN, shares her experience as a nurse manager at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Jessica Mahle

April 7, 2020 – It’s my day off. My 4-year-old son just asked me to help him find his ball and my 6-year-old daughter is coloring. For a brief second life feels normal. Moments like this are precious these days. For the past month, I have felt like I was on a treadmill wearing a blindfold and someone else was pushing the buttons. Faster. Faster. Faster. Incline. Incline. Incline.

As a nurse manager, I have been responsible for leading the nurse team on the eighth floor of Brain and Spine Hospital of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center through the transition to a COVID-19 unit. Overnight, we went from treating neurology patients with epilepsy and stroke complications to caring for COVID-19 patients. Many of our COVID-19 patients also have cancer, and require specialized care.

The biggest challenge has been adjusting to how rapidly everything keeps changing. When we first starting taking patients, testing was slow, and it took days to find out whether our patients had COVID-19. We ruled out many who didn’t. As testing improved, we got results in 48 to 72 hours, and were moving patients off the floor in batches.

Now, the unit is filled with mostly positive, very ill patients. As nurses, we feel like we are watching the worst of the worst with these patients. They are fine one minute and then will be intubated an hour later. We haven’t lost any patients but many of them have been transferred to the ICU. This has been emotionally taxing.

In the beginning, we were using an N95 masks in every room. As the personal protective equipment (PPE) is becoming less available, we moved to using a different mask. As you can imagine, this causes anxiety among nursing staff. The messaging of what will keep us safe is changing daily. We have been wearing our masks for multiple days as there is a lot of worry that there will come a day when PPE is not available. We are trying to conserve.

Our days are longer. Mine last about 10 hours, and I’m on my feet the whole time. We are physically exhausted.

It’s hard to relieve the stress. I used to go to the gym, but that’s closed now. I’m afraid of bringing the virus home to my kids. Also, my babysitters aren’t working for me right now because I’m at risk; and they would be at risk. So, the stressor of having to find child care on top of everything else is really hard for me.

I worry about what the surge will look like. Will we will have enough staff to care for all of the patients? Will there be enough PPE to keep all of my colleagues safe?

We are doing what we can to get prepared. I have trained half my staff to step into a leadership role if I or other senior staff are called to work in critical care. We are also stockpiling medicine that is typically reserved for the ICU in case our unit needs to treat critical patients. But really we don’t know what to expect. So you can only prepare so much.

I trust that Ohio State is doing their very best to ensure that I am safe. There are so many people working around the clock doing all they can for the health and safety of our staff and patients.

This experience has shown me that as Buckeyes we come together to support one another. Staff throughout the medical center have sent food or household items (even toilet paper!) to show their love and support for us on the eighth floor. This has been very encouraging as we work hard to fight this pandemic. Ohio State is truly the best place to work. I’m very proud to be a Buckeye.

Jessica Mahle, BSN, RN
MSN candidate, The Ohio State University College of Nursing

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