“The amount of people who can’t breathe, who are coming in with respiratory issues, is overwhelming,” said Marina DiMattia, a triage nurse at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. But, she added, “in between gasps of air, they thank us.” The gratitude among patients “has been remarkable,” she said. “It makes me think I can keep doing this.”
Ms. DiMattia, 29, lives in Long Island City, Queens, with her boyfriend, Daniel Bulgrin, 29, a market researcher.
SODA AND A CHAUFFEUR I wake at 6:45, have some egg whites and toast. I don’t have coffee; instead I drink a Diet Coke. I know that’s bad, but it’s the bee’s knees. Usually I take the subway, but Dan wakes up and drives me to work now. Even though we’re both wearing masks, we kiss goodbye and say to each other, “I love you.” I walk into the hospital at 7:45 and surprisingly feel relieved. I’m seeing my co-workers and having human engagement, which is comforting.
THE SHIFT We’ve condensed everything into the ambulance bay so that walk-ins and people being brought in on stretchers happen in one place. It reduces exposure and contains everyone. When I step onto the floor, I’m wearing three layers of face protection, a gown, and a shower cap, and I get myself ready for a 12-hour shift. The management team comes out and updates us. We talk about what happened on the night shift, how many beds we need, how many patients need I.C.U. and if anyone we know got sick. Then the huddle nurse tells us positive news about patients and how many have been discharged. It’s an extremely inspiring moment to hear about the resiliency of humans.
CARBS My first break is at 9:30. I go into the break room and see what’s available to eat. I haven’t had to meal prep in over a month because people have seen so kind and send the most beautiful things. They feel helpless and want to do something. People cry when they see all the muffins, pastries, pizza, and bagels.
CONNECTIONS By 10:15 it gets busier. Mid-shift staffers come. The volume gets louder. You’re in it.
For the next few hours we see varying degrees of patients. We wait for labs, imaging and for people to see doctors. My time with a patient in the E.R. is quick. We stabilize and send them to where they need to go. I spend more time with critical patients, which is where you make a connection. You’re their hope and lifeline. Seeing how they’re suffering is devastating. The beds have been filled for weeks, but yesterday we were not at capacity so it was a good morning.
WATER BINGE At 3:30 I eat again. When we’re wearing layers of masks it’s hard to take a drink of water, so I usually wait and drink two or three bottles at once. To have the masks off makes me feel like I can breathe. I walk to Central Park to get some air. I’ll call my parents and Dan and answer texts. People are in the park, but nowhere near what it should be so it’s a little eerie.
THE GOODBYE At 4:30 I get back into protective gear. It’s exhausting. Fire fighters do this everyday with 70 pounds of gear, so I’m not complaining, but this is a reminder that we’re still fighting this virus. I get updates from the nurses that covered me while I was on break.
Normally visitors stay 24/7. As a triage nurse my least favorite moment is telling loved ones we can’t have visitors in the hospital. I feel terrible taking away that person from patients, but stabilizing the patient is the priority. People cry, but everyone has been so understanding. I’m never going to stop people from hugging their loved ones if they’re stable and can afford that second. Then I ask whoever came in with the patient how they’re feeling, and tell them they should go home and quarantine, in case they’ve been exposed.
THE MOMENT If we can, we walk outside at 7 and stand as a group on the corner and cry as we listen to people clap and honk their horns and say ‘thank you.’ It’s the most special, beautiful moment of my day. We walk back inside and return to patients who can’t breathe and are so sick, it’s conflicting emotions. The night shift crew comes in to relieve us, they’re our superheroes.
EXIT By 8 I’m disgusting and sweaty. I’ll bleach my shoes and badge and wash down the face shield. I take off the other two surgical masks. I throw away the gown and shower cap. I used to come out of the hospital, and on the street you saw life being lived, and normal things going on. Now you come out and there’s nothing. I can’t see my friends or family or go to dinner with people and talk about the 12 hours I’ve just had with co-workers.
MASKED MAN Dan picks me up. He already has a mask on, so do I. When I see him I know the day is over. I know if I need to cry that’s OK, or if I don’t want to talk in the car that’s OK, too. At our front door Dan has plastic shopping bags ready. I get naked in my hallway. The clothes go in the bag. The shoes stay in the hallway. They’re not allowed inside. I take a piping hot shower while he Clorox wipes the doorknobs, my keys, wallet, and phone.
ZONE OUT I tend not to eat anything because I’ve been well fed during the day. I take some melatonin. Around 9 we sit on the couch and watch TV — “Rick and Morty,” it’s a cartoon on Hulu. It’s stupid and mindless and I don’t have to think. And “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.” Sometimes we watch “Forensic Files.” I start to doze off and Dan will nudge me. I go into the bedroom and fall asleep.