“It’s kind of like riding a bike. It’s still the same job and the same bike but I feel like I have flat tires,” said Gettysburg Hospital Registered Nurse Eric Gagné as he described his work since the pandemic began.
Gagné works in Ward A2 where he monitors the conditions of four or five patients at a time, the majority of whom have COVID-19.
Gagné in his protective gear
Gagné and that he had been at the job for almost four years, working 12 hour shifts three days a week and every third weekend. He said he takes extra shifts if they are available.
Gagné said, “The hospital is sometimes, but not always full. We’re not at max capacity day in day out. We don’t have people hanging out the in the hallways.”
Nevertheless, he said the workload had increased due to the pandemic and sometimes getting it all done was difficult. “There are days when instead of the normal 4 (patients) to 1 (nurse) ratio it becomes a 5 to 1 ratio.”
Gagné said the most important parts of his job are time management and prioritization. “What’s made it challenging this time is everything takes more time to do.” Gagné said doing simple tasks like getting a cup of water for a patient was difficult because of the difficulties of donning and doffing personal protective equipment (PPE) every time.
But Gagné said hospital staff from other parts of the building pitch in doing whatever they can, particularly serving as hallway runners.
“Patients on our floor have increased needs of oxygen. We know how to handle that and we know when enough is enough. But I had one patient who passed away who was under my care. It was sad, just like any other time.”
The ward has a no-visitors policy, but Gagné said there were two tablets with the Zoom app installed that allow patients to communicate with their families and that phone calls were also available.
Gagné said, “We have an awesome staff and we work very well together. We notice very quickly when someone is having trouble. I’ll hold off on getting a cup of water for a patient a couple of extra minutes so I can help assist someone who is struggling.”
Gagné’s safety requires him to wear a powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) with a full-face helmet and a respirator that he wears on his waist. Gagné said the PAPR works better than an N-95 mask, but it takes 20 or 30 more seconds each time he takes it on or off.
The father of two young children, Gagné said he was not terribly concerned with taking COVID home to them or his wife. “It hasn’t been a huge concern. “I come home and go straight to the shower.” One problem Gagné noticed was keeping his three-year old from hugging him first. “Gotta get changed. Gotta get dressed,” he tells the child.
“There are days when it takes longer for me to de-stress when I get home,” said Gagné “I like to play drums. I like to play with my children. My family is healthy and that’s a good reminder to me that I get to go home at the end of the day.”
Gagné said he was scheduled to get the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine soon. “I had COVID back in October. I had to take some time off.”
Gagné said there has been plenty of supplies in the hospital. “That has never been a problem. We’ve always had enough masks and gowns. I haven’t seen any shortages. We’ve been fortunate.”
Responding to what he thought people need to do this winter to reduce instances of COVID-19, Gagné said “Take care of yourselves. Wear the mask when you’re out in the store. When you’re in a public area. Areas that have larger populations that have socially distanced and worn their masks are doing better. It seems to be making a difference. Let’s get through the winter.”
Charles Stangor is Gettysburg News’s Publisher and Editor in Chief.