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Coronavirus In Minnesota: Nurse Emily Allen Talks Caring For Patients In Protective Gear, 'It's Like Being In A Space Suit'

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Nurse Emily Allen has been working at Bethesda Hospital, taking care of the patients in critical condition due to COVID-19.

She had just gotten off a 12-hour night shift when she spoke with WCCO's Esme Murphy via video chat.

"Every shift I go in it just gets more and more sobering," Allen said.

Normally she works three 12-hour shifts in a row; this was her second night.

Allen is an experienced critical care nurse and volunteered to work at Bethesda. "I a thousand percent feel that's where I'm supposed to be," she said. Though not everyone agreed with her decision to work there, she has the full support of her husband and close family.

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Critical care now, though, looks much different than it would have just three months ago.

"In any critical care situation you have to prepare for the unexpected," she said.  "With the virus and with the severity of it, you could be going on and having a stable night, then all-of-a-sudden the slightest little thing could change and it could throw off the balance for the patient. It takes a little while to get them stable again."

Most of the patients she sees in the hospital are on multiple medications to keep their blood pressure up while they're on a ventilator. They're one-to-one patients; "one patient to one nurse," Allen said.

Recently, the state's supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) has come under scrutiny. Local companies have stopped their regular manufacturing in favor of creating masks and face shields to donate to nurses and hospitals.

"We have enough equipment at this moment today, but it's already starting to dwindle down," said Allen. "They're making it very clear that we are to use one mask per shift unless it's physically ripped or soiled."

Normally, nurses would use a new N95 mask for each patient they see. But those masks are now under lock and key.

"The charge nurse has the key to the supply of them. So it's our job to hand them out to the appropriate personnel when it's necessary," Allen said.

Administering to patients is getting harder too.

"It's like being in a space suit and you're on the moon. It is hot in those masks. We're not only wearing those masks in the patient rooms. We're wearing them for our entire 12-hour shift. So a lot of the times it causes pressure in the back of our ears, so we're kind of coming up with some creative solutions for that," said Allen.

Her skin is suffering too. Allen held up her hand to the camera to show how red it has gotten. "That's from washing my hands and using hand sanitizer," she said.

The toll is not only physical, but has impacted her mental health as well.

"One day I'll go in and feel I'm taking on the world and saving the world, and the next day, for lack of a better term, you're scared out of your mind," she said.

Even after describing the conditions in the hospital however, Allen still had a smile on her face as she signed off the video chat.

Esme Murphy will check in with her again in a week, on Sunday, April 12.

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