“It was unlike anything any of us had ever experienced, because we didn’t know what we were doing. We were learning it as we went along,” say former COVID ICU nurse Rachel Grossman. Grossman, a nurse with 26 years of clinical experience had transitioned into the administrative side of nursing as a policy and patent advocate at UC Health. Then, in March of 2020, COVID struck.
“There was just a really weird feeling at the hospital of impending doom,” says Grossman. Two months later she left her administrative job and was voluntarily deployed to the COVID ICU. “There was a lot of trial and error and collaborating with other places all around the world. Care was changing so rapidly. We would throw anything at it that we thought might help. We all felt like we had to do something. People were dying, and they died alone, because nobody was allowed in the hospital. It was just us.”
Photo of Rachel Grossman, RN
Patients were flown in from as far away as the Texas Pan Handle, New Mexico and North and South Dakota. Patients followed a similar pattern. They needed supplemental oxygen, and when that was no longer enough, they used bi-pap to force oxygen into their lungs, and ultimately most of them ended up on a ventilator. "I had never seen that much death," says Grossman. "It was really frightening. I had two kids at home and an elderly father I was trying to keep safe. I felt like I was a vector, who could potentially bring something home.”
The machines in the ICU created a lot heat so the rooms were hot on top of the fact that the nurses were in their PPE’s (personal protective equipment), which caused them to perspire. ‘Bundled Care’ was given: turning patients, hanging fluids, and hanging meds. The nurses tried to limit their exposure by getting in and out as quickly as possible. “All the room had windows, so we were watching them from outside. It was so different from the kind of care I had always given,” says Grossman. So much protective gear was worn the nurses were unrecognizable. Pictures had to be hung of the nurses in the rooms so patients knew who was treating them.
Grossman worked in the COVID ICU for seven months. She and the co-workers in her unit never got COVID, despite having to reuse their personal protective equipment. Like many, she burned out, and, after receiving her first vaccine, she decided it was time to move to supervisory role at UC health at the surgery clinic.
Grossman thinks implementing a single-payer healthcare system, basic preventative health care and making it easier for people to enter medical or nursing school is the solution to our current healthcare problems. “Government paying for those kinds of educations instead of someone coming out of medical school with $250,000 in student loan debt,” says Grossman.
There were some positives for Grossman during her work in the COVID ICU. “There was really a sense that everybody was in this together. There was a lot of collaboration of trying to figure out how to save these people who were so sick. Food trucks would pull up and give us free food, even when people banged pots outside their front doors at 8:00, that made me feel important, “says Grossman. “I still love patients, and I love meeting people and that work that has an intrinsic value.”