Florida Nurse Talks About What It's Like Working In Coronavirus Hot Spots
STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Today, the state Department of Health Services has recorded more than 4,200 cases of COVID-19, but the department reports the numbers are elevated because some labs did not record in Monday's count. The state today is also reporting that 92 additional Arizonans have died due to the virus. As of Monday, hospitalizations remain at critical levels, with 90% of [Intensive Care Unit] ICU beds in use. The number of suspected inpatient cases, though, has dropped by more than 100 in recent days, but still remain near record highs.
LAUREN GILGER: As the COVID-19 pandemic numbers have continued to rise here in Arizona, medical personnel from across the country have been brought into local hospitals to help manage the surge. Stephanie Frater is one of them. The nurse from Florida is working overnights in the COVID Progressive Care Unit at Bandon University Medical Center in Phoenix right now. But before that, she served in hospitals in the heart of New York City just as the pandemic hit there. I spoke with her more about her experience there and how it shaped and prepared her for coming here.
STEPHANIE FRATER: Going into New York when COVID first hit our country in such a horrible way. ... First of all, New York was like a ghost town. I was living in Times Square. I've seen maybe 10 people in Times Square and most of those were police officers and military. My first day at the hospital, I was in a COVID ICU unit, and it was something like I've never saw before. I actually went home crying on the subway, and I'm crying to my mom. I'm an adult and I'm like, "This can't be happening in 2020 in the United States of America." I had never seen anything like that in my life. And I've done trauma ICU, I've done long-term ICU, but that was a very, very, very foreign to me and something that I hope our country never has to face again.
GILGER: What made it so challenging? Like, was it because it was so new and you as health care workers were sort of just trying to figure out how to treat it on the fly?
FRATER: The most challenging part was people were so hopeless. People didn't have family — we weren't allowing family members to come in, so we have patients that are on the ventilator, can't breathe for yourself — we have 'em in comas, not a loved one in sight, not in, you know, not a loved one in earshot. So that right there was very hard. But then you have every person from every department in this hospital and we were all fighting, trying to figure this thing out. We didn't know much about it when it first came. So, you know, we're all in there and we're all trying to figure out — we have the doctors, the residents, nurses, even down to our environmental services who would come and help, you know, clean up afterwards. It was like a little family, something I've never experienced in nursing. Also, because you had doctors coming to nurses asking questions. You had nurses will go to like a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant), like everybody was using everybody off of feedback. There was no power trip. There was more of a "We're in this together. We need to figure this out." And you seeing a bunch of little kids running around trying to figure out how to get into that present and get it out.
GILGER: So now you're here in Arizona. You're working in the COVID unit at Banner University here in Phoenix. And we are sort of in the midst of a similar spike with similar numbers. What do you know now that you sort of wish you had known then? Like, how much easier is it to approach patients with COVID at this point?
FRATER: It's a lot easier to approach the patients with the COVID, because small things that I learned being in New York, such as if a patient's oxygen level is low, and as we know, COVID is a virus and it attacks the lungs and the respiratory system. So if a patient's oxygen level is low, what's normal to do on a regular day in nursing and without the COVID world would be to sit the patient up, turn up the oxygen on their oxygen machine and try to increase their oxygen. Well, COVID patients, it's a little different. It's almost the opposite. So we have a patient who has COVID, and if their saturations are going down, we want to do what we call in health care 'prone them,' which is lay them on their stomachs. And you take something as simple as that, lay a person on their stomach and help bring their oxygen level up, and that erases all the potential for the patient to get intubated and have to be on a breathing machine and on drugs to keep them in a coma so they can be on a breathing machine. So I wish I would have known that when I first got to New York, but like I said, we were all in it figuring it out together.
GILGER: How does what you're seeing here in Phoenix right now compared to what you've seen before, is this, is this as bad? Is it, is it just as scary or do you feel like because you have a better handle on how to treat things like that example you just gave us, you can you can be a little, a little less scared of the situation going in?
FRATER: For me, I'm a little less scared of the situation going in, and I'm probably more calm and collected than I was when I first went to New York and everything was new. However, COVID is still very, very, very scary. It's not one day that I go to work here at University of Phoenix and I'm not, you know, praying before I go in, because COVID can pretend like it's not so bad one minute and you can, it would change drastically in five minutes. You'll have a patient that's sitting there breathing on your own, doing fine, and they crash so fast they end up on [a] breathing machine. It takes the whole village to get this COVID under control. It takes, you know, the people in the public that's not, we need to wear masks, we need to wash our hands, we need to not expose ourselves so much. We're in there fighting every day for your loved ones. People get the presumption that this is a disease that mainly targets older people or people with other illnesses going on, and that's very far from true. In Phoenix and in New York, I've seen patients lose their life that were much younger than me, actually, my daughter's age in their 20s with no previous health conditions.
GILGER: How do you cope with this? I mean, like I know as a nurse, you're trained to deal with, you know, high pressure situations and, and difficult situations. But this is so unprecedented. Like, how are you handling it?
FRATER: One day at a time. It never gets easy. It never gets easy watching someone struggle just to have a breath of air, which is free. It never gets easy watching somebody reaching for someone just because they just simply can't breathe like they're being suffocated. It never gets easy. Ever. Never. Not for me. Fortunately, we have other nurses that we can lean on. We have our managers that we can lean on. Cafeteria ladies, they are great. We can, you know, but it never gets easy. It requires for me anyways, a lot of prayer, a whole lot of hope, trying to educate myself every day to learn more and more about COVID. And most importantly, me trying to educate the public is very, very important to me because small things that can be done, small things that you can recognize that they don't understand, I have no problems sharing. So I do take a lot of time and tried to explain the disease itself to someone and why it's so scary and awful.
GILGER: Yeah. All right. That is Stephanie Frater. She is a nurse who was working on the frontlines here in Arizona, overnight right now at Banner University Medical Center here in Phoenix. Stephanie, thank you so much for joining us to talk about this and stay safe.
FRATER: My pleasure.