Maggie Walsh graduated from Gwynedd Mercy’s nursing program in May 2019, and less than a year later is on the front lines of a health crisis in a greater-Philadelphia area hospital.
She says the pandemic is nothing like any nurse at any age ever anticipated, saying, “In nursing school, you know we cover the spread of disease, and we looked at disaster scenario. But it’s definitely something different to learn about it than to experience it yourself. It’s definitely something that I didn’t expect.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported last week that of the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States, healthcare workers make up 11-percent. Daily exposure to the virus called for big adjustments in how Maggie commutes to and from work. She adopted a thorough pre and post-work routine to prevent bringing the virus home.
She explains that outfit changes are commonplace, saying, “I leave my work shoes at work. I normally bring street clothes to change into at work. Once I come home, I come through the garage and run upstairs and get a shower.”
Understanding that incubation of the virus can be anywhere between two and 14 days, Maggie knows the importance of continued caution, even when the post-work routine is finished. Though in a house with 6 other family members, social distancing has proven itself to be difficult.
She details her isolation and disinfecting routine, “Cleaning doorknobs, cleaning the light switches in my house. Cleaning the rooms I’m normally in and doing my best to stay farther away from my family, it’s definitely hard because we’re all home.”
Maggie credits her devotion to the community for their generosity, and the patients she treats. Since the start of the outbreak, she has received cards and gifts from patients and friends alike. The messages inside encourage her to push on, and remind her of the kindness that emerges in times of crisis.
“It’s been comforting and just humbling to know that you have people supporting you. I mean, at the hospital we get food donations every single day. Seeing what people are doing within the community, within our country, that’s the biggest thing that has kept me going” said Walsh.
The transfer to an online curriculum for current nursing students nationwide has deprived them of the real-world practice that is provided in clinicals. Many feel cheated out of the educational experience that they hoped to receive. To them, Maggie offers empathy and advice.
“I’m sure it’s a pretty strange time for nursing students. I think that there’s something to be said for all of this going on and them continuing to push through school. Knowing that this is something new that we are learning every day and knowing that you’re not alone in that” said Walsh.
Maggie states the most important lesson she has learned through this crisis is that self-care is paramount in the healthcare field. “In order to care for the patient, you have to care for yourself first and make sure you are safe”.
Luckily, this is made possible through her hospital’s careful conservation of personal protective equipment (PPE). Walsh said, “My hospital and every other hospital in the area are doing everything they can to conserve their PPE. But while they are trying to save the equipment they are ensuring we are safe”.
The situation has not gotten any less surreal for Maggie. She explains that as a new nurse, there is a struggle to get into a routine. With a new normal that changes day to day, there are always new things to learn, and most importantly, patients to treat.