Amanda Jung has adopted a new routine.
After a 12 hour shift, the SSM St. Mary’s Hospital — Audrain and Boone Hospital Center nurse disrobes in a secluded room in the back of her house in Mexico, puts her shoes in the dryer and takes a shower before greeting her family.
“I'm most nervous about bringing something home to my children,” Jung said. “My husband has all the doors open when I get home so I don’t have to touch anything.”
Jung’s two young boys, ages 5 and 8, are getting used to the new way of greeting their mom after work. Instead of running into her arms like usual, they now wait patiently until their mother is no longer “germy” to embrace.
“I don't worry about myself so much because this is my job and what I do is take care of sick people,” Jung said. “I have always taken care of people.”
Jung has yet to be directly exposed to a patient with a confirmed case of COVID-19, but is taking all the precautions she can to keep herself and family safe. Jung has worked at both SSM and the Boone Hospital for more than 12 years. Still, in her 24-year career as a nurse, she has never taken prevention methods at home so seriously.
Life for Jung at the hospitals has changed too. At Boone Hospital, Jung has worked three 12-hour shifts on the “covid floor,” or the floor exclusively used for testing and care related to COVID-19. While working there, Jung and her colleagues suit up in a full gown, face mask and gloves, equipment previously used when caring for patients with high-risk disease. The nursing staff use N95 masks each day, a type of protective mask previously worn when caring for patients with tuberculosis or other highly contagious diseases.
“Six months ago, we would have gotten a new mask two to three times a day,” Jung said. “Now we get one and that is ours to keep. That’s the only thing that worries me.”
Shortages of personal protective equipment have affected health care workers across the nation. Today, it is not uncommon in hospitals for health care workers like Jung to reuse single-use masks in an effort to preserve them. Between caring for patients, Jung puts her mask in a brown paper bag. It isn’t until after her shift that the mask is sterilized and given back to her for reuse.
“In an ideal world, I would get a new mask everytime I go in that room,” Jung said.
At the end of March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance for extended use of N95 masks as well as instructions for “limited” reuse.
Despite the new uniform, Jung says the environments in the SSM and Boone Hospital are not similar to what is shown on national news.
“There is not the amount of patients in the hospital like say at hospitals in New York,” Jung said. “We're very lucky that it hasn't been that bad.”
In mid-March, Jung went from working 44 hours a week to 24 after hospitals around Missouri began suspending elective surgeries and other procedures in order to prepare for the pandemic. Because there are so few patients, nurses take turns staying home and coming in.
Additionally, SSM now limits all visitors into the hospital, making nurses the central point of contact for information on current patients. Jung says a significant portion of her shift has become updating family members on a patient’s condition. This leaves less time to check in on her patients but is now an important part of her job.
“Compassion is one of the first things that makes a good nurse,” Jung said. “Every person is different and handles things differently. You have to adapt.”
Taking care of others is something that has always come naturally to Jung. She grew up in the small town of Stewardsville and became interested in the profession as a kid when a nurse visited her house to take care of her ailing grandmother.
“I am a nurse at heart,” Jung said. “I don't feel like I'm a hero by any means. It’s just that I have done this half my life.”
Women account for three-quarters of health care workers today, according to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, making them the fighters on the frontline of a global pandemic. Jung, like many, looks into the future unsure of what will come. For now, she aims to keep coming into the hospital and doing her job.
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