A Chain of Events: My Experience with COVID-19
By Hope Hinchman, MSN, RN (clinical instructor for SON)
Infectious agent, reservoir, portal of exit, mode of transmission, portal of entry, susceptible host. For those of you who may not know, this is what the medical world calls the chain of infection. It is how an infectious disease spreads from one person to the next. The concept behind it is simple. Keep the chain intact, and the disease runs rampant. Break it, and the infectious agent won’t stand a chance. I first learned of this cycle back in my first semester of nursing school and have since carried it with me throughout my career as both a pediatric nurse and clinical instructor. In fact, it is a concept I teach to the level one students here at the School of Nursing, and it has kept me from contracting any major illnesses until very recently.
Two weeks ago, I became infected with COVID-19. I couldn’t believe it. I really thought I had done everything in my power to keep it from happening. I washed my hands, I wore my mask, I socially distanced when close contact wasn’t a requirement, and yet I was laying there in my bed at 11:00 PM with a 101.5 temp and body aches I can’t even begin to describe. I didn’t need a nasal swab - which by the way is a reason in and of itself to stay as far away from COVID as possible - to tell me that I had COVID. What’s worse is, as I was laying there, I couldn’t help but to think of all the people I had come into contact with; my family, patients, coworkers, students, the elderly woman in the parking lot. What if I somehow gave it to them? What if their symptoms were far worse? What if they died because of it?
After I recovered, Dean Angela Amar asked me to write something about my experience with COVID and to be honest, I didn’t know what I was going to write. I obviously wanted it to be meaningful, but I also wanted to give my genuine perspective, the good and the bad. Every day I would write little notes on my phone about how I felt so that when I finally sat to write this thing, I might be able to give outsiders a better look.
As nurses, we take on an inherent risk and we do it willingly. Every day we walk into patient rooms ready to aid in the healing process. Many of those rooms have patients that have a communicable disease. We don our PPE like we are ready to hit the town, meticulous and well thought out, and we head in. Once our cares are complete, we doff our gear, wash our hands, and head to the next room. The difference between this scenario and the current pandemic is that we haven’t isolated the problem. We haven’t isolated COVID-19. It’s everywhere. That’s why it’s called a pandemic. So, what do we do? Well, we start by wearing our PPE. I hate that mask as much as the next person. I feel like I can’t breathe, it makes my face break out, and for some reason I feel like I can’t hear as well. But let me ask you this, is it worth it? Is not wearing the mask worth giving that elderly woman at the store a virus she may never recover from? What about hand hygiene? It’s a simple task and one that takes twenty seconds or a two-time run through of the “Happy Birthday” song. Is not washing your hands worth giving it to your coworkers, forcing them to take sick leave, which may or may not be paid, and putting more pressure on them as well as their family? Is it worth it? Lastly, and probably the hardest for me, is the social distancing. It’s not easy being away from my friends and family. It’s not easy to teach students or talk with patients at a six foot distance, but is not social distancing worth it? My answer is no.
I can’t say for sure where I picked up the virus because the truth is, I could have gotten it from anywhere. I thought I was doing all the right things, but it all comes back to that fundamental concept, the chain of infection. Somehow, someway, and as much as I don’t want to admit it, I didn’t break the chain. I put both myself and those around me at risk. It’s bad enough to think I could have given the infection to someone else, but had I spread it to someone and they had died or they had suffered from serious complications, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself. The guilt, for me, would have been far worse than the infection.
To say that I was one of the lucky ones is an understatement. It took about five days for the fevers and body aches to subside. My headaches, which were excruciating in the beginning, are now much less frequent, and the fatigue is finally beginning to wear off. Everyday, I would receive multiple calls from family, friends, and coworkers to check on my status. They would send me care packages that included anything from my favorite soup to Pedialyte and they made sure that I didn’t feel isolated even though I very much was. I was one of the lucky ones.
There is a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, but instead of focusing on what we don’t know, I have chosen to focus on what we do know. Wearing a mask, washing your hands, and social distancing have proven to be effective. Are they going to guarantee that you don’t get it? No, but they do drive down the risk. I owe it, or rather we owe it, to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to all of those around us to do our part. If we are going to beat this thing, we have to stand as one, we have to fight as one, and we have to evolve as one.
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