Bubble-Encased Stretchers. Nine Ventilators Left. All Hands on Deck. One Nurse’s Week Treating Coronavirus

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A studious on a third building Covid-19 section is tugging during her oxygen mask, perplexing to wrench it off. She is 60, with a heat of 102.7, and her lips and mouth are dry from inhaling by a plastic. But any time helper Emily Rostkowski quick removes a facade to give a lady H2O or medicine, her oxygen levels plunge to hazardous levels.

It is a small after 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Mar 24, during Holy Name Medical Center, a 361-bed sanatorium in Teaneck, New Jersey, and Rostkowski’s change has only begun. Her Covid-19 wing has 14 beds. Each studious arrives here around bubble-encased rolling stretchers, and any has tested certain for a virus.

The lady who doesn’t wish to wear her facade is distant from other patients and nurses by plexiglass windows and floor-to-ceiling walls of cosmetic hermetic by zipper. Rostkowski knows it is a waste knowledge for patients. They’re incompetent to see a facial expressions of their caregivers. They hunt for comfort or answers behind goggle-encased eyes. After Rostkowski finally manages to settle a woman, she leaves to check on her other patients.

Rostkowski, 46, is an oncology nurse. A breast cancer survivor. A mom of two. She began discussion about Covid-19 patients trickling into Holy Name in early March. Located in Bergen County, only opposite a Hudson River from New York City, a sanatorium is in a epicenter of New Jersey’s outbreak—on this day, 80 patients are being treated for a virus, with 25 of them in complete care. At a beginning, a coronavirus patients were not nonetheless underneath her charge. They went to complete caring or puncture instead. Now, a coronavirus patients are everywhere. While some cancer sufferers are still being treated, many patients with other ailments who are good adequate have been liberated to make room for those with Covid-19. Each dilemma of Holy Name is prepping for a entrance onslaught. Plans are underway to spin a sanatorium discussion rooms, storage rooms, and pediatric wards into coronavirus units too. It is all-hands-on-deck.

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Right now, Rostkowski is a “floater,” reserved to wherever she is needed—and a needs are with a Covid-19 patients, their numbers swelling. Retired nurses and nursing students are being called in to serve. The administrator of New Jersey announced 3,675 Covid-19 cases and 44 sum deaths, a largest genocide count given a conflict began.

One minute, a coronavirus studious will be okay, Rostkowski says. But in an instant, they can crash. She recalls one patient, “Out of nowhere, her lips were blue,” Rostkowski says. “These patients, if they are going to crash, they pile-up fast. They don’t give we forewarning. One notation they are fine. The subsequent minute, ‘Oh my god, we can’t breathe…’ They are only fibbing in bed. They are oxygen starved. It’s scary.”

From a corridor, Rostkowski listens for studious lavatory calls and pleas for assistance around temporary intercoms—rows of VTech baby monitors, a kind we competence find during Target, any numbered (the quarantine complement does not concede for dire buttons, like a common room bells). Patients who are mobile adequate go to a lavatory in commodes wrapped in biohazard bags, that Rostkowski, wearing gloves, rids of carefully, so as not to let any of it lurch on her.

These patients, if they are going to crash, they pile-up fast. One notation they are fine. The subsequent minute, ‘Oh my god, we can’t breathe…’

She no longer wears a disposable gown. The sanatorium is out of them. Staff rest on gowns laundered with china ions. They are also low on N95 respirators and masks; staff members emasculate their used masks with UV light. When Rostkowski’s neighbors got word that her sanatorium was brief on N95 masks, some forsaken off boxes they had stashed in their garages for personal use.

Yesterday was Rostkowski’s day off after an burdensome week, and when she arrived behind today, a sanatorium looked zero like a former self. The façade, a noble red section building, reminds her of a industrial systematic devalue from Stranger Things. Newly erected china tubes poke out of any window, like a legs of a hulk octopus, sucking infested atmosphere out of a rooms. The run has also been remade with tubes and any caller chair removed.

A ensure watches as Rostkowski cleans her hands during a sanitizing station. Another ensure meets her to chaperon her between floors. The confidence measures are despotic to sentinel off family members unfortunate to see their desired ones, guard transformation in and out, and make certain medical workers are regulating a safest precautions.

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At Holy Name, employees customarily wear opposite tone uniforms, signaling their roles. Nurses like Rostkowski wear white tops and black bottoms. Aides wear blue bottoms. Lab techs, beige. But now, any worker receives a span of gray scrubs, that they change into on-site before their change and mislay before going home to equivocate swelling contamination. Everywhere Rostkowski looks, she sees gray.


Before a Covid-19 outbreak, Rostkowski found accomplishment operative in oncology given she could describe to a patients from when she had been one herself. When genocide came, she attempted to move comfort to families observant goodbye by attractive coffee carts and nominal food for them as they waited by their desired ones’ beds in those final moments. After a studious took a final breath, Rostkowski authorised families to lay with a physique for a few hours before it was taken to a morgue.

Rostkowski simply wants to make a finale as pacific as probable for as many as she can. Death, she says, “on a normal day—not a Covid day—I see it as a service from pain, a service of years of treatment.” When we are battling a illness like cancer, there is a clarity that we know what is coming, and we can prepare. When a finish comes for her patients, Rostkowski says, “they are loved, they are celebrated, and genocide is only a subsequent phase.”

“They gathering their desired one to a sanatorium room with a cough and a heat and now they are dead.”

But so many of these little gestures, these intense goodbyes, have left now, in a arise of Covid-19. Families of patients with coronavirus don’t have those last, proposal moments together. They are not authorised to come anywhere close. They video call. “It’s heart wrenching,” Rostkowski says. “They gathering their desired one to a sanatorium room with a cough and a heat and now they are dead.” A Covid-19 death, Rostkowski says, “is like a automobile accident. Families are together today, and tomorrow they are not.”

At 6 p.m., Rostkowski earnings to a bedside of a lady who doesn’t like wearing her mask. The lady is forlorn. She tells Rostkowski that she had not gifted tellurian reason in days until another nurse, a crony of Rostkowski’s sat with her progressing and reason her hand. So many other nurses, aides, or doctors lurch in and out, always vaporous by protecting gear. Rostkowski grabs a woman’s palm by her gloves and binds it for a while too. She asks a studious to tell her about herself.

Rostkowski learns a lady is deeply concerned in her internal synagogue. She is a post in her community, once intense and full of energy, volunteering to assistance a poor, even initial a food bank. She recently became legally blind, yet she has some prophesy left, with limitations.

“I mislaid my eyesight from a pathogen 6 years ago,” a lady tells Rostkowski. “I will be darned if I’m going to let this foolish coronavirus kill me now.”

Both women laugh.

The studious asks Rostkowski: How is this coronavirus predicament inspiring a immature people?

Rostkowski explains that she has a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old during home. She tells a studious that her oldest daughter’s promenade was cancelled. But her daughter was quite dissapoint that a module she had been ostensible into—a 15-day outing via Germany to learn about how Jews were persecuted during a Holocaust—was called off.

The studious picks adult a napkin from her food tray. She motions for Rostkowski to move her a pen. She starts to write down names of people she knows personally. Holocaust survivors. “Call them,” she tells Rostkowski. They will learn her daughter about a Holocaust. They will tell her about resilience. What they schooled flourishing mass death.

Rostkowski squeezes a woman’s palm and puts a napkin in her pocket. She knows she will not give it to her daughter anytime soon. The napkin could be contaminated. But Rostkowski will keep it herself. She wants to make a scrapbook full of suggestive sanatorium moments. She will safety this napkin as one of a mementos.

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By midnight, Rostkowski earnings home, exhausted. She enters by a side door, stealing her boots first. She empties her pockets of her ID badge, her stethoscope, and a napkin. She dumps it all on a opposite before stripping off her garments and throwing them into a basement. Naked, she runs to a shower.

All day, her conduct has been hurting. She thinks it contingency be from wearing a facade for so many hours on end. She holes adult in a basement, clever to equivocate her father and daughters. She throws her garments in a washer. She bleaches any aspect she’s impressed yet in her conduct haze and fatigue, she forgets to censor divided a napkin and other equipment she left on a counter.


Three hours of nap later, Rostkowski earnings to a hospital. It is Wednesday, Mar 25, and a complete caring section is full. The puncture room is full. The run unit, that binds 18 beds, is full. The 6th building is stuffing up. All coronavirus cases. Governor Phil Murphy announces that a statewide cases jumped by some-more than 700 overnight to 4,402. Another 18 deaths. A sum of 62. Holy Name now has 100 coronavirus patients, with a entertain of them on ventilators. Only 9 machines are left.

On a third floor, Rostkowski’s change is a whirlwind. The lady who gave her a napkin has taken a bad turn. Her heart is violence too fast. She can hardly breathe. The complete section is during capacity, so she is sent to puncture where there are additional vicious caring nurses on staff.

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The lady ends adult underneath a caring of Ashley Fitzpatrick, a 32-year-old helper who routinely works in a catheter lab. But like Rostkowski, she has been reassigned to work with Covid-19 patients. Fitzpatrick’s hire is in a pop-up complete caring unit, that emerged to hoop a crawl of Covid-19 patients. Most of Fitzpatrick’s patients come to her intubated—or sedated—and they are critically ill. Fitzpatrick, a mom who has been socially enmity from her possess sons, ages 2 and 5, finds bravery in her colleagues, all hidden in masks. “I see my friends looking so frightened in their eyes,” she says, “and nonetheless behaving so brave.” They know a rise is still coming.

Meanwhile, Rostkowski has never felt so fatigued. She knows it contingency be a miss of sleep, and a nonstop relocating from studious to patient. Her conduct hurts worse than yesterday. Her change ends during 7 p.m., yet she stays late. By a time she gets home, she has no appetite to do anything yet sleep.

On Thursday, Mar 26, she is behind during a sanatorium again by 6:50 a.m. This time, she is reserved to Lobby North, customarily a section for renal patients, yet it now it is a Covid-19 section too. There are 35 beds. She is reserved to a 79-year-old male who has a pacemaker, hypertension, a story of heart disease.

“I see my friends looking so frightened in their eyes,” she says, “and nonetheless behaving so brave.” They know a rise is still coming.

By 10 a.m., a man’s respiratory rates and oxygen levels have dropped. Rostkowski has him on a hypnotic drip. She knows he is dying. There is no one else to come to his side, no family is authorised to see a patients, no matter who we are. Some families are livid. They direct to be let inside.

This male is inside of a plexiglass box, called an isopod. It stretches over a tip half of his mattress, encasing him like a giant, vale ice cube, from conduct to waist. Coronavirus patients live inside of these transparent cuboids. It is large adequate for him to lay adult while inside of it, yet Rostkowski knows he will not be sitting honest again.

The box has side doors that open on hinges. Rostkowski opens adult a doorway and puts her gloved palm on his. His eyes are open. She rubs his head. “It’s excellent to be with God,” she tells him.

He closes his eyes and lets out a sigh. He is gone.

Rostkowski covers him with a piece and goes to a nurse’s station. She is sobbing. The male is one of 13 Covid-19 deaths so distant during Holy Name. Rostkowski can’t mount to see them die though their desired ones. When her possess grandfather upheld divided in bed, her grandmother was right there with him. “You’re not ostensible to die alone. Not when we have family.”

The manager points to a lady being rolled down a corridor on a bubble-encased stretcher. Another Covid-19 patient. “That’s his wife,” she says.

Rostkowski pulls herself together. She has to call a coroner. The coroner’s bureau asks about his details: Age? Gender? Was it Covid?

Post-mortem caring is zero like it used to be before Covid-19 seeped into Holy Name. Usually when a studious passes away, nurses and staff go to good caring to mislay IVs, catheters, any lines, drains. They rinse a body. Remove a colonoscopy bag. Make a physique demeanour as purify as probable before it is picked up. Now, they are destined to leave all trustworthy to a body. No stealing of any equipment that could be infested with fluids. Put all of it, any tube, any device, into a physique bag. Write “communicable disease” on a toe tag. Wipe down a extraneous of a bag with bleach.

“It doesn’t feel real,” Rostkowski says.

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By 3 p.m., a co-worker of Rostkowski approaches. She has a chills. Rostkowski takes her temperature. It is 102.4 degrees. An spreading illness alloy flitting by notices and tells a helper to go directly to a worker health tent outward of a sanatorium puncture room to get tested for Covid-19. When she’s done, he tells her, go home.

Rostkowski is prepared to go home now too. After 12 hours of wearing a N-95 facade her nose hurts. Her conduct pounds. She thinks it is from a straps dire opposite her skull. Her ears sting. Her mouth is parched. Her stomach aches. She gets home, tries to eat a Lean Cuisine, and quarantines herself divided from family for another night, descending defunct on a atmosphere mattress in a basement.


By Friday morning, Mar 27, Rostkowski’s headache is still pounding. She has chest tightness, nausea, diarrhea, chills, and a cough. When she is not in bed, she is in a bathroom. She can't eat anything. She has a heat of 101 degrees. She calls sanatorium worker health. Rostkowski needs to stay home. She will accept tele-health calls, and she should get tested for Covid-19.

By now, Holy Name has during slightest 20 medical workers and other staff underneath quarantine given they might have been putrescent with coronavirus.

It is stormy and cold on Saturday, Mar 28, when Rostkowski drives herself to Holy Name around noon. Two Army-sized tents lay outside. The blue one is for a community. The beige one, for staff. A flashing pointer reads: “Flu-like symptoms here.” Rostkowski is vibrating and hectic as she waits 25 mins in line for her turn.

Once inside a tent, she spots a co-worker who is also her friend. She knows it is her immediately, even yet she is lonesome totally in protecting gear. Rostkowski bursts into tears, impressed by all of a events of a final week, and a accessible face before her.

“It’s okay, Emily,” her crony says. “Breathe in, you’re okay.”

That day, 3 of Fitzpatrick’s Covid-19 patients upheld divided in a row.

She sends her by a behind doorway of a tent, where Rostkowski meets another masked nurse. This helper customarily works in a endoscopy dialect and is now in assign of a coronavirus swabs. She tells Rostkowski she will be conducting a BioFire diagnostics test, that customarily tests for flu, bacteria, parasites, and more. This one will exam privately for Covid-19.

Rostkowski knows what it was like to give this test. It is a prolonged nasal bandage that goes “all a approach adult your nostril into a behind of nasal passage,” Rostkowski says. “People fun it’s touching your brain.”

Rostkowski clenches a behind of her chair and tilts her conduct back. First nostril. Then repeat. Rostkowski does not make a sound.

“Wow, we got a bullion star for patients today,” a helper tells her.

Rostkowski earnings home to rest. Results will not come behind for during slightest 4 days.

All weekend, Rostkowski can't eat. She is sleeping in a master bedroom now, with her father in another partial of a house. This way, she has her possess bathroom. Less contamination. The family drops off trays off food during her door. Neighbors dump off Tylenol during her front gate.

Finally, on day four, her heat breaks. She manages to eat duck and rice. She goes outward to get uninformed air. She can’t stop examination a news or reading updates on her phone. The administrator announces 3,347 some-more Covid-19 cases, 16,636 in a state. 198 deaths—more than 4 times a series from Rostkowski’s initial change final week.

Rostkowski’s mom is 74, her father is 76. They live on a 21st building of a building in Weehawken, New Jersey, that has an unrestricted perspective of a Statue of Liberty. Her father has serious pulmonary fibrosis. “He is very, really high risk. If he was to get [Covid-19] he would die.” Rostkowski used to move groceries for them, yet she can't do that now.

On Monday, her relatives send her a print they took of a USNS Comfort, a Navy ship, nearing in New York. Rostkowski scrolls by news reports. She sees images of crowds collected during a post to declare a arrival. “Hundreds of New Yorkers,” she says, many though masks. “It infuriates me.” Do they not know what is function inside of a hospitals? Do they not care?

On Tuesday, Mar 31, a nursing co-worker calls Rostkowski to check in. She gives her an refurbish on a 60-year-old woman, a one who did not like to wear her mask, a one who gave Rostkowski a names of a Holocaust survivors.

The lady upheld divided final night, she tells her.

It was helper Fitzpatrick who took caring of a woman. Held her palm in those final moments. Fitzpatrick never got a possibility to have a review with her, not in a approach Rostkowski did. But she attempted to offer as a family member for a ones who could not come. A wordless comfort. A peaceful touch. That day, 3 of Fitzpatrick’s Covid-19 patients upheld divided in a row. Fitzpatrick says, “I wish she knows she is loved.”

Rostkowski’s heart drops during a news. Her knees feel weak. She thinks about a napkin. Where did it go? It has disappeared. She discovers one of her daughters found it while cleaning up. Thinking it was trash, her daughter threw it away.

Rostkowski feels infirm during home. She still has not perceived her exam results. She can't control any of this. She wonders, what is holding so long? She reads there is a reserve on thousands of coronavirus tests, heading to delays in results. Meanwhile, news reports aspect that a collection of 1,000 N95 masks that Holy Name systematic for it staff didn’t yield adequate insurance and had to be returned. The sanatorium bought them from a devoted vendor, yet fraud artists took advantage of a desperation.

I am so antsy to get back. we would like to go paint my unit. we wish to reason adult a fight.

Rostkowski wants to know when she will be privileged to lapse to work. Her group needs her. So many are out sick. So many ill people are still nearing during Holy Name. Patients need her. “I am so antsy to get back,” she says. “I would like to go paint my unit. we wish to reason adult a fight.”

Rostkowski no longer feels ill. It is Saturday, Apr 4, and Holy Name is now treating 150 patients for Covid-19. In all, it has tested 1,963 patients, with 1,111 people receiving certain formula and another 222 pending.

Forty-four of a patients have died from a virus—including 3 staff members. Twelve Holy Name doctors have been infected, with dual of them now hospitalized. Governor Murphy announces that a state has mislaid some-more lives to coronavirus than it did to a Sep 11 attacks.

Twelve days have upheld given a conflict of Rotkowski’s initial symptoms. She finally receives her Covid-19 exam results. They come behind positive.


This essay has been updated.

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