Nurses and nursing assistants. Doctors. Janitors, cleaning hospital rooms before, during, and after. These are heroes, risking their own lives and families to take care of the victims of our 21st century plague.
Joan Chartier, a respiratory therapist at the WestHealth urgent care clinic in Minneapolis is one of these heroes. She was featured in a Washington Post newsletter this week, and says she is seeing about one covid-19 patient each shift:
How often do you change your N95 face mask?
“Apparently people were going through them too quickly to suit management. All the N95s got moved into the manager’s office and locked up.
“Sometimes after several days they fall apart, they’re not sealing well, or the elastic straps have broken and we’ve been told to staple them back on. The charge nurse has a notebook and writes down who got one, the date and the reason, like we’re 12 years old.”
Who are you testing for the coronavirus?
“We’re only testing people that are in congregant facilities like nursing homes or health-care workers or if they’re sick enough to be transferred to the hospital. It was up to provider discretion before, maybe a week or two ago. We just don’t have enough tests. One of the nurses at work told me she’d been tested 14 days ago and hadn’t received a result.”
Is there anything you want readers to know?
“Everyone is talking about ventilators. Nurses don’t know how to run ventilators. Every time I work, the manager will say go show the nurses again how to run this. If I’m not there for some reason and we’re not fully staffed with respiratory therapists, they kind of have to fend for themselves.
“You can have as many ventilators as you need, but if you don’t have people who know how to run them, you’re sunk.”
Are you worried about contracting the virus while at work?
“I’m over 60, so that’s not good. I’ve had breast cancer in the past, so that’s a little ding there. I really try not to worry about it, although I would say the anxiety is a lot higher than normal.”
Dr. Charles Gebhardt is a general practitioner in rural Georgia, in a community that is a hot spot for covid-19. He was interviewed for the same article:
Do you have any stories from your practice to share?
“Let me give you a story of a patient who went to one of the local funerals and was in contact with someone sick. She then went to work, then needed to go to the court system to apply for a license. Then she went to a local church that weekend for services, and she went to a party. She went to visit someone in a nursing home, and when she got home she started to feel sick.
“She went to the emergency room and she died in the hospital that evening. She tested positive for covid-19. She had exposed probably 500 other people. That’s why all of a sudden just about the entire population of Albany has been exposed.”
Has your practice’s income dropped?
“Our reimbursement is down by 75 percent or more. All the services we’re providing right now are either unreimbursed or minimally reimbursed. Half our staff is on the phone constantly talking to someone relative to the coronavirus anxieties or how to get the services they need despite the lack of availability. All that is unreimbursed, almost all of it.”
Some heroes, like Chartier and Gebhardt, work on the front lines, usually unrecognized. Others take courageous stands that expose. them to the wrath of their superiors, and cost them their jobs. Nicholas Kristoff wrote about one of those heroes, Dr. Ming Lin:
“In Bellingham, Wash., an E.R. doctor, Ming Lin, pleaded on social media for better protections for patients and the staff at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, where he had worked for 17 years.
“’I do fear for my staff,’ Dr. Lin warned. ‘Morally, I think when you see something wrong, you have to speak out.’
The hospital responded by terminating Dr. Lin.”
Getting fired is not even the worst thing that happens to these heroes:
“At Weill Cornell, a former E.R. doctor is now fighting for her life on a ventilator.
“’We’re seeing our fellow caregivers getting sick, and we’re stressed out,’ said another Weill Cornell emergency room physician, who feared being fired if his name were published. ‘Within one morning, I saw a gastroenterologist, an internist, a nurse and a pulmonologist’ — he was talking about his patients — ‘and you want to protect yourself.’”
Captain Brett Crozier, commander of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, was fired this week for standing up for his sailors. Crozier wrote to his superior officers on March 30, telling them about an outbreak of coronavirus on his ship, with more than 100 sailors testing positive. He asked that his crew of 4,000 be taken off the ship and quarantined rather than continuing in a situation where they were exposed to the virus.
“We are not at war,” he wrote. “Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.”
His superior officers refused, all the way up to the Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper. When the San Francisco Chronicle obtained and published Captain Crozier’s letter, the Navy fired him from his command.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper first said the sailors did not need to be evacuated, then backed acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modley in removing Crozier from command of the ship. After that, and following an enormous wave of publicity, the Navy began to evacuate the sailors from the Theodore Roosevelt.
Captain Crozier was “among the U.S. Navy’s most distinguished commanders.” He Is still in the Navy, but his career has been derailed because of his defense of the sailors under his command. When he walked off the ship after being relieved of his command, the sailors stood and chanted his name.
In a New York Times op/ed, Theodore Roosevelt’s great-grandson wrote:
“Captain Crozier joins a growing list of heroic men and women who have risked their careers over the last few weeks to speak out about life-threatening failures to treat the victims of this terrible pandemic. Many of them are doctors and nurses, and many of them, like Captain Crozier, have been punished. All of them deserve our deepest gratitude.”