Andrew is a gastroenterologist focusing on patients with procedures such as endoscopies. During an endoscopy, he must wear an N95 mask to prevent the risk of inhaling aerosols carrying harmful viruses.
“He’s only given one mask a day,” Grace said. “He has to wear it from the start of his procedure until his very last procedure.”
Andrew must keep the mask on because they are designed to not be touched for risk of contamination.
He told NextShark that his current normal hours are “about 10 hours a day with a few evenings of being on call per week.”
“He doesn’t eat lunch, he doesn’t drink water, he doesn’t eat any snacks,” Grace continued. “As his wife, it f**king sucks.”
With Business Insider reporting the rise of masks stolen from hospitals among the already depleted supplies and global shortage, healthcare workers are forced to ration masks and deal with inadequate equipment.
When asked how the rationing is affecting him, he replied, “It’s been stressful. It’s always in the back of your mind, you’re always wondering ‘was that the patient interaction that will infect me and my family?'”
Andrew went on to describe how the virus has changed how healthcare workers do their jobs: the move to almost entirely telehealth, the type of personal protective equipment (PPE) they wear for procedures, postponement of all non-urgent procedures and being hyperaware of bringing the virus home.
“I know that if he’s not eating lunch and if his hospital is rationing masks, I am almost sure that — as you’ve seen in the news, every other hospital is as well,” Grace added.
According to NBC News, that is correct. In California, nurses outside Kaiser Oakland Hospital were seen protesting the shortages and requesting more PPEs. In the article, one Oakland nurse, who wished to remain anonymous, revealed the daunting situation.
“We are really afraid now — there are nurses writing their wills,” the nurse said.
Described as feeling constantly on guard, exhausted and emotionally drained, Andrew can attest to the Oakland nurse’s notion, as he thought about the lack of proper equipment and the deadly consequences as well.
“We look at Italy and New York and other hard-hit areas and we worry if that’s what will happen to us. Some of my colleagues who are young and healthy have filled out advance directives just in case something happens to them and they are not able to participate in their own medical decisions,” he stated. “I’ve discussed with my wife what my wishes are.”
“As of now, in the Bay Area, it still feels like the ‘calm before the storm’ as the hospital is making preparations for the expected surge in the coming weeks,” the doctor continued. “Colleagues I know in New York are working longer with extra shifts and with shortages of masks and other PPE.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) stated to only wear a mask under these circumstances: only those who are coughing and sneezing, if you are caring for someone with COVID-19 or if that person is showing symptoms of the disease, if you know how to properly dispose of it, and only in conjunction with frequently thorough hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water.
But now, as Andrew and Grace and other healthcare professionals are pointing out, even if you know how to properly dispose of them, and thoroughly wash your hands, to donate to hospitals instead.
“If you have any N95 masks lying around, please consider reaching out to your local hospital and see how you can donate it to them because the healthcare workers really need it,” Grace requested. “They need these to continue doing their jobs safely.”
If you cannot donate masks, Andrew added that ways you can help are to stay at home unless it’s absolutely necessary to leave, practice social distancing and wash your hands.
He stressed that limiting the spread of the virus will save lives from COVID-19 as well as those with other medical problems. If the hospital is overwhelmed with COVID-19, there will be unnecessary death and disability. Healthcare workers will not be able to give adequate care to both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients.
If you are able, he noted to check with your local blood bank and consider donating because there are some areas with shortages.
Even something as simple as reaching out to your healthcare worker friends to check in with how they’re doing is helpful.
“I know they’ll appreciate it,” Andrew closed.
Feature Image via @gracerella