Connie Bachel, a longtime employee of Sheridan Memorial Hospital (SMH), contracted COVID-19 in mid-September.
Bachel and six of her co-workers at the SMH Urgent Care tested positive for the coronavirus, each exhibiting different symptoms. For the next two weeks, they recovered, checking in on each other’s progress and offering words of encouragement.
In early October, Bachel was feeling better, if not fully energized. But by mid-October, COVID-19 reasserted itself in full force, even worse than before. Bachel, suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms, did not immediately want to go to the emergency room.
“It was so embarrassing — I didn’t want to do that in my own sandbox,” she said. “But my husband said, ‘No, you’re going to have to be a patient.’”
Bachel was immediately admitted and placed in a COVID-19 isolation wing.
SMH has two dedicated wings for COVID-19 patients: one in the Intensive Care Unit for critically ill patients and the other on the Med Surg floor for those like Bachel who need to be admitted but don’t need ventilators. Experts across SMH departments have worked together to ensure these wings are as safe as possible for patients and staff.
“It’s very scientific,” said Lacey Johnson, the Med Surg Manager at SMH.
Because COVID-19 is an air-borne disease, Johnson explained, one of the most important elements of the isolation wings is the air flow. Partitioned off from the rest of the hospital, the hallways and rooms have negative air pressure. Instead of filtering, cleaning, and recirculating the air like in most buildings, the mechanics of the hospital bring in air and then send it directly back outdoors, without returning to the hospital. All doors and windows must remain closed to maintain the seal.
In addition, the few dedicated staff members who are allowed into the wings must be in full PPE: gown, gloves, booties, N-95 mask, eye cover, and hair bonnet or a capper.
The cleaning staff for the COVID-19 wings uses “terminal cleaning” agents and gear, the same used in Operating Rooms, a lengthier and more involved sterilizing process.
Perhaps most importantly, the medical team must be conscientious of the time spent in the wings.
“If we go in to deliver medications, we get them all at once,” Johnson said. “We bathe patients, change the bed, etcetera, all in that time frame.”
While crucial for safety, the COVID-19 isolation wings can be just that — isolating.
At the time, Bachel’s daughter, Megan Perkins, was a registered nurse at SMH. Due to the strict safety protocols, even she could not enter the room — only the dedicated on-duty nurse could be admitted.
Perkins herself had worked in the COVID-19 wing. She had seen family members’ frustration at being kept apart and knew the importance of lifting patients’ spirits when at their most ill.
“As a nurse, it’s hard to see your patients struggle that way,” Perkins said. “I saw how much it dropped their mood and their affect. It hurts people’s sense of well-being when they’re so isolated. But I knew why we were doing it and that it had to be done. Just from taking care of previous COVID patients, I knew what my mom was going through.”
So, like many of her patients’ family members, Perkins found a safe way to engage with her mom. Bundling up against the October snowstorm, Perkins headed to the window outside of her mom’s room.
“I called her on the phone, and we sat by the window and drank coffee and pretended the window wasn’t there,” Perkins remembered.
Over the next few days, these chats meant the world to Bachel. And the support continued to flow. Friends, family, and co-workers visited — even her daughter’s friends popped by to throw snowballs and wave an encouraging sign out of the window.
“It means more to the people in that hospital bed than you know,” Bachel said, choking up.
After four days of treatment, Bachel showed improvement, tested negative for the contagious antigen, and was released to recuperate at home for another week. She gradually started working again, building up her hours and strength slowly.
Today, Bachel feels “100% completely better.” When she looks back at the fall, she realizes just how ill she was.
“After about a month and a half of being so sick, when you do finally feel good, you realize just how terrible you felt,” she said. “I’m so glad I went in because I don’t know what would have happened. They took great care of me.”
Back at work, Bachel — already a compassionate person — feels even more empathy for patients and family members after her experience. She sees the same change in her co-workers who also recovered from the disease.
“I know how they feel,” Bachel said. “I feel it. It’s real. We all need to wear our mask and practice hygiene. It’s just here. It’s here all the time.”
Her daughter agrees.
“I just hope that people understand what these regulations are for and what the mask mandates mean for certain people,” Perkins said. “Until it becomes personal for you, you don’t really take it to heart. Until you realize one of these patients is a mother or a grandmother — because one was your mother — you just don’t realize the detrimental effects. I think all the people who make a stink about our mask mandates need to take a step back and realize it’s about being a good person.”