We are all staying home with our families, social distancing, and completing school at home. However, while we are at home, essential workers are out on the frontlines away from their families and working harder than ever to make sure we are all safe and healthy.
Dr. Sara Blomstrom is an emergency room doctor at UCONN Health Center in Farmington, and since the outbreak, everything from the number of people coming into the hospital to the way patients are being treated has changed.
At UCONN Health Center, the protective gear doctors wear has changed drastically since the coronavirus outbreak. Dr. Blomstrom must treat every patient as if they were infected with the virus, even if the patient had been in a car crash or simply needed a CAT scan. All the coronavirus protection is necessary to wear, just in case the patient is infected with the coronavirus.
Dr. Blomstrom described her new routine for dressing to go to work: When she gets to work, she puts on her scrubs, which are usually worn home the day before, but now they are being left at the hospital to prevent tracking the virus into her home. To see any patient, she is required to wear goggles along with an N95 mask that she used the day before, with a reusable cloth mask covering it. She also wears a face shield on top of it all. Dr. Blomstrom wears a gown on top of her scrubs, which are ripped off after exiting any room. She is now also required to wear a hair cover and two pairs of gloves. A common thing doctors will wear on their faces now is a PAPR, which is a powered air system. Doctors prefer it because it is more comfortable and protective for the face; however, it can be dangerous. If the battery runs out while with a patient, they are at risk of being exposed.
Like many hospitals across America, UCONN Health, unfortunately, is lacking the proper personal protective equipment needed to protect their doctors. She explained that while they are lacking supplies, many inner-city hospitals are even less prepared. “More inner-city hospitals do not have enough protection, and some are even asking you to reuse gloves,” she said.
The after-work decontamination process has now changed drastically for Dr. Blomstrom. Before she leaves work, she removes her scrubs, leaves them at the hospital, and wipes down everything that has been in the hospital, including the N95 mask she will reuse the next day. Once she gets home, she immediately takes off all her clothes and washes them. Most times, Dr. Blomstrom will get home at three or four in the morning and will take a boiling hot shower. Her least favorite part about that is having to blow dry her hair so early in the morning!
There are now external tents set up outside of the ER and main entrances. These tents take all of the respiratory patients and keep them out of the main waiting room of the department. They will be discharged from the tent if they are well enough, and if they are sick, they will be taken into a “hot zone” within the emergency department. These zones protect people with non-respiratory illnesses or injuries from contracting the virus.
Dr. Blomstrom explained the sad circumstances that many patients and their families face as patients are dying alone in the hospital. Patients with the virus are not allowed to have visitors; other patients are allowed one visitor. “When people are dying, they have nobody there with them because there are no visitors allowed,” Dr. Blomstrom said. “Nurses are holding these patient’s hands as they are dying, which is really hard to see.”
For doctors and essential workers, going to work each day is scary. As a younger doctor, Dr. Blomstrom realizes how hard it is for the older doctors working right now because they are more vulnerable.
Although it is scary for the older doctors, the doctors at UCONN Health—and certainly all over the rest of the country—are seeing young and healthy people die as well.
Dr. Blomstrom and her husband are both ER doctors at different hospitals around Connecticut. Dr. Blomstrom, along with many other doctors today, comes home to a family of three young children. She mentioned that they have had to make many lifestyle changes and are afraid of bringing the virus home to their families. “We are very cautious about what we are touching, and we are afraid to bring things home,” she said.
As two doctors working on the front lines, Dr. Blomstrom and her husband worry about where they would send their children if they brought the virus home. They are worried they might have to separate them because three extra children would be hard to handle.
Dr. Blomstrom has seen first hand how infectious and dangerous the virus is. “In general, the most important thing about this virus is how infectious it is and how quickly it can spread to other people,” she said. “So far we are doing a pretty good job in Connecticut with our resources. The better people are staying home and separating, the more resources we will have for really sick patients for when the virus does spike.”