This story is the second in a two-part series. To hear part one, click here.
Berkshire Medical Center Nurse Mark Brodeur remembers one N95 mask he wore for three weeks straight.
“Every patient encounter, every shift. Sometimes for hours on end.”
The masks are supposed to be single-use.
“It’s definitely an odd time for nursing,” Brodeur said. “We’re doing things we would have never done before. Things that if we did in nursing school, we definitely wouldn’t have passed.”
Hospital medical staff are dealing with thousands of patients suffering from COVID-19. Brodeur is part of the effort as a float nurse at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield. He floats between the critical departments of the hospital, based on where there’s a need.
Recently, Brodeur has been in the ICU a lot, he said, and the shortage of personal protective equipment has been challenging.
Critical care staff put their masks in paper bags and tape the bags to the hospital’s walls to reuse later. Since Brodeur floats between different departments, he carries his paper bag with him.
“So I kept the same mask for three weeks until it literally lost all integrity and would no longer even stay on my face,” he said. “Which is concerning because the last shift that I used that I was in a room with a patient that had the COVID, trying to put in invasive lines like a central line that goes in the neck.”
And for that kind of procedure, he said, you can’t leave the patient to rearrange your mask.
“And the whole time I'm trying to scoot the mask back up my face by pressing it against my chest,” he said. “So that way there's at least some protection.”
After that, he got a new N95 mask. But they’re in short supply, and he’ll have to use this one as long as possible, too. The equipment he has to wear isn’t comfortable, either.
“Sometimes when I leave work, I have skin breakdown at the bridge of my nose from the N95,” he said. “I have sores developing behind my ears from the from the masks and the goggles.”
Brodeur shared recordings he made describing some of his nights at the hospital working with COVID-19 patients. Brodeur described the challenges of transporting a recent patient, who was on seven different IV pumps, as well as other lines, to get a CAT scan.
“Trying to move the patient with all this equipment and all these pumps. The patient's intubated. Respiratory therapy is there. Three nurses. Trying to navigate, make sure that the lines aren't pulled out.”
It’s a challenge — like everything else right now. Brodeur said his job as a nurse is to make patients feel better. And not just with medicine.
“They're scared,” he said. “So, you know, spending extra time with the patient if you can, sitting down next to them. You know, just chatting and asking him where they're from and how they're doing.”
When he gets home, Brodeur changes out of his scrubs and shoes in the garage. This is the first time in his career he’s been worried about bringing something home, he said.
“I do foster care with an adult with autism and he's had lung surgery, so he is at a higher risk,” Brodeur said. “I haven't seen my mom in a month and a half, just because I don't want to expose her to anything. I've never felt like I was leaving the hospital with something dangerous before.”
Nursing is hard on even the best days. But he said working with these patients is especially draining because the patients are so frightened. They know that COVID-19 can be deadly.
Brodeur described helping an elderly woman recently who was nervous as she was admitted to the hospital.
“Generally doing OK, just on a little bit of oxygen, but sort of scared and apprehensive and doesn't really know what to expect or what's going on.”
Brodeur said he discussed her medications with the patient, and tried to reassure her.
“Just sort of squatting down by the bed - there's no chair in the room,” he said. “And holding her hand. And we had to draw labs and do an EKG and give her medication and hang up IV antibiotics. And just really make sure that she feels comfortable and safe.”
That’s what nurses are doing all over Massachusetts, all over the country, and all over the world. They’re trying to make their patients feel comfortable and safe — even if they’re not necessarily feeling that way themselves.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Mark Brodeur's last name.