Photo submitted by Amy Graham
Nurses reveals how covid affects patients
One nurse at the University of MN Cancer Center knows what it is like to be at the other end of that world-shattering diagnosis.
“I had kidney cancer when I was 15,” Amy Graham explained. “And so, I had a lot of experience with surgeries, and I had to get chemotherapy, and go through a lot of stuff.”
It should serve as no surprise that this is what led her to where she is today: helping others and encouraging them through what she experienced years ago- though that looks a little different now.
Covid-19 has altered how hospitals work the entire year, and the Cancer Center is no different. According to Graham, “When this all got started, we just kind of got hit like a freight train with all of these new policies and protocols and safety things and ways to do things.”
Face masks, then face shields, screening patients and eventually a capacity dropping from around seventy people to about 50.
Much of this was to protect the nurses themselves – 6% of all Covid hospitalizations from March to May were nurses- but also to keep the patients who could be treated safe. Chemotherapy weakens the immune system, making anyone undergoing it much more susceptible to Covid.
In recent months the Cancer Center has been able to return to about 70 a day, but the other precautions still remain – including limiting visitors. That is where a new problem begins- patients may be physically better, but now their mental health is at risk.
Graham makes this point clear, “So even a brand new patient…has to sit there alone for the entire day, whereas before they would have their husband or son or daughter or mom or dad with them. Now they can’t bring those people back with them, and so they’re sitting there alone.”
This year has proven that isolation in one’s home with their family is tough enough. But being alone, with little direct contact from your own family, in a new place, undergoing confusing procedures, all while dealing with one of the scariest diagnoses one can receive, is on a different level.
With all that, it is no wonder that many nurses have to play therapist and support group to their patients.
Graham has been working especially hard “I try in my day when I interact with patients to check in with them and not only talk about their physical symptoms…but I try to talk to them about how they’re doing and what kind of support system they have and, you know, do they live completely alone or do they have family at home with them…people are really struggling and really hoping for an end.”
It’s no surprise that similar problems extend across all medical fields, though sometimes for different reasons. For example, in the labor ward, women want others with them to share the joy of their baby with them. But now that experience is much different.
Labor and Delivery nurse Tiffany McGuire sums it up pretty well, “As you can imagine, if you were in the hospital and you didn’t have anyone you knew or loved beside you during a very important day of your life, that could be really sad.”
Overall, things are still pretty rough for everyone in the hospital right now – especially the ones whose sicknesses or treatments make them immunocompromised.
Still, nurses around the country are fighting to keep patients both physically and mentally healthy, and they’re not backing down easily.