An emergency department nurse reflects on a year of treating COVID-19 patients
The COVID-19 pandemic tested health care providers as never before. Elyse Laurance (LAS ’10, CSH ’15), an emergency department nurse who has been working at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center in Newport Beach, Calif., for the past four years, describes how her world changed after a year of treating COVID-19 patients and why she decided to get vaccinated against the deadly virus.
In the beginning
The ER is always crazy, but with the anticipation of the coronavirus, we were changing things on a day-to-day basis. We made a coronavirus zone where you had to put on your PPE, and you couldn’t leave that area. Many times, you were stuck there for 12 hours.
On a normal day, we have 300 to 400 patients coming through the ER, our census dropped to about half because everybody was pretty scared. But everybody who was coming in was very sick or dying, and instead of just trying to stabilize them, I’m trying to save their life. We lost a lot of patients coming from nursing homes and other elderly people. They got hit really hard in California.
Being an ER nurse, you have to have a bit of thick skin, but on some days, I and two other friends would hang out, just trying to forget about what was going on.
I live with my mom, and I moved out for two months. I was so nervous that I was going to bring it home, and I didn’t see her for two months. I didn’t see any of my family.
The calm before the storm
We got our stride with the coronavirus at the same time that it was slowing down. Everybody was feeling really good for a while. It felt like it was possibly going away. Obviously worry loomed that the winter flu season was going to pick back up, but not really knowing 100% what to expect.
As the summer came, I felt more comfortable moving home. Noticing that I’ve been around people with COVID pretty consistently for the past, nine or 10 months, I realized that our personal protection—the N95 masks, the gowns, the goggles and the gloves—really does work because if I was going to get sick, you better believe I would have been sick by now. So I felt comfortable moving home and being with my mom. But it took a while for my brother and sister-in-law to let me be around their baby.
The winter spike in cases
Late in the year, I’d never seen it so bad. I’m working with nurses who’ve been here for 20 years who were saying this is the worst it’s ever been. People got less scared of the virus, and so they did whatever they wanted to do—and it’s killing us. It makes my heart hurt, and I just don’t understand, I guess, that point of view.
We transformed all but one ICU in our hospital into COVID units. We’re a big hospital, and we still couldn’t get patients out of the ER, and we experienced supply shortages trying to keep up.
On getting vaccinated
Initially, I was a little bit worried that the vaccine came out so quickly. I did a ton of research on it, and when I sat back and I thought for myself, I felt very comfortable getting the vaccine. The director of my ER asked if I would be a part of a press conference as one of the first people vaccinated in Long Beach. I felt super proud that I was able to represent my hospital that way.
It feels like we’ve been in a war, and it feels like this is the first sign of peace or a truce that we can see on the horizon. That’s honestly how I felt—that it’s the beginning of the end, hopefully, fingers crossed. And I was really happy to be a part of it.