Though the effects of coronavirus (COVID-19) have greatly affected daily life, health care workers deal with the virus face-to-face every day. Gonzaga alumni Becca Sellner (‘18) and Patrick Driscoll (‘18), are both nurses watching the virus unfold in their workplaces.
Driscoll works the night shift until 3 a.m. at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. He graduated from GU’s nursing program and went to work in Los Angeles right out of school. He resides on the cardiothoracic surgery floor, where heart and lung surgeries are performed.
“Everything inside your chest would basically land you on my floor,” Driscoll said in a phone interview.
Driscoll’s floor looks different now. They have canceled all elective surgeries and are taking on patients who would have gone to other floors that are now taking care of patients with coronavirus.
“There are three floors that are our main COVID units with [all of] the positive patients, not necessarily the critical ones," Driscoll said. "But if you're positive, you're going to be going to that unit."
Driscoll said his unit is dealing with a lot of patients outside the cardiothoracic scope, but they are a unit known for being “with it.”
“It's an interesting vibe, not necessarily being in the thick of it, but picking up what's left so that people can be in the thick of it,” Driscoll said.
Becca Sellner graduated from GU in May 2018 and immediately started working at Holy Family Hospital in Spokane. In the summer of 2019, she moved back home to San Diego to work at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. She works three 12-hour shifts a week in an oncology unit.
Sellner’s tower in the hospital is receiving patients who would normally be distributed across several different areas and it is taking in patients facing other medical challenges besides coronavirus. Her hospital has the largest number of coronavirus patients of all the Sharp hospitals in San Diego.
“Yesterday at work I actually got floated which means that I show up to work and my floor was fully staffed, so they sent me over to the west tower to work on one of the designated COVID units for the day,” Sellner said.
A glaring issue Sellner has noticed during the coronavirus is the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the hospitals. She said it’s true what we’re hearing about shortages.
“There's literally someone manning a table handing out masks where they tell us we have to use [the protective gear] for the entire shift,” Sellner said. “When it first started they would give us one mask and basically say you have to wear the mask the whole shift.”
Even though all nurses may not be working in the designated coronavirus units regularly, the influence of the virus is extremely prominent.
“We recently had a patient with no fever, no cough, and he came up for a set of vitals, had a fever, all of a sudden, he has this dry cough," Driscoll said. "We were like, 'OK, let's plan for this because it could eventually be positive.' And so that creates that kind of paranoia that's not typically there."
Driscoll deals with patients who are usually not coronavirus patients. He has noticed that patients who do not have the virus, have other medical conditions that require treatment.
"Since we aren't those COVID units, it's like people have day-to-day stuff to think about too,” Driscoll said. “There are others who need as much care.”
Staying home is not ideal for many, but it creates an added pressure for nurses. Driscoll is trying new ways of letting loose, like painting and playing music.
“One of the major ways I deal with the stresses of work is traveling a lot,” Driscoll said. "I was in Hawaii, I went to Seattle, San Francisco. Now you can't really do that so that so I will learn how to stay put, stay busy.”
Sellner’s roommates returned to their hometowns, so she lives alone in the midst of the pandemic.
“I think everyone can agree that I think as humans we really rely on social interaction," Sellner said. "It can be really difficult. Luckily, my parents are still in San Diego and even though I'm a nurse, they allow me to come and hang out with them because my roommates have gone back to their parents houses.”
Though this is an unprecedented time, Sellner enjoys nursing because of the direct interactions with patients daily.
“My favorite part is probably all the people that I get to interact with right away," Sellner said. "I think that I really enjoy that as a nurse, I get to coordinate the care and be kind of in charge of it. I mean, there's a million things that have to get done for each patient each day, and it's up to me when those things happen."
Sellner knows there are lots of opinions about the coronavirus situation, but she stressed the importance of working together to overcome it.
“We're on the front lines and trying to do our job and take care of people but if people don't do their part, it's going to make it hard for us to do our part,” Sellner said. “It's definitely not easy times, no one likes staying at home but just use this as a time to focus on yourself and look at some of the goals you might have had that you have always put aside.”
Though coronavirus is causing so many unprecedented changes, Driscoll said to “look ahead.”
“The one thing that I always tell myself is, ‘work like it's your first shift and your last shift,’ so really go out there and give it your all,” Driscoll said.
Driscoll is applying this positive mindset to quarantine and the rest of his life as well.
“Just live in the moment, so much of this is fleeting,” he said.