Q & A with Siobhan Michelle Bell, Hostos ’16, Registered Nurse

This interview was conducted on 5/27/2020 by Idelsa Méndez, Development Officer and Felix Sánchez, Alumni Relations Manager, and has been edited for length and clarity. 


Q: How have you been involved in the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: During the pandemic, my unit has been turned into a COVID-19 unit where my team and I care for patients who were either being ruled-out for COVID-19 or had tested positive for COVID-19, with or without other comorbidities.

As a nurse, I am required to work with an interdisciplinary team to plan care for patients from admission to discharge. My responsibilities include providing physical and medical care as well as emotional support. 

Q: How has your role changed as a result of the current crisis? 

A: I can answer this in many different ways. I was asked to cluster my care when caring for a COVID-19 patient to avoid overexposure of the virus. I do believe that my role as a health care provider changed then. I was also asked to care for more patients than is safe to do so for one nurse while orienting a brand-new grad who would be assisting during the crisis. This made it almost impossible to give proper care to the patients.

Q: How has your job and role during the crisis impacted you—personally, professionally, emotionally, physically? 

A: Personally, it changed how I see medicine. We are so comfortable relying on medication to fix health issues. It was very stressful not knowing to treat the patients in a way that would help them. I was discouraged professionally because I didn’t feel supported by administrations and my concerns about how we were managing the crisis fell on deaf ears. However, it did encourage me to understand more and be more proactive about patients' and nurses’ rights.

I am still experiencing emotional stress, and I find myself mentally drained. Watching people die is something that comes with the territory, but not being able to help patients’ transition was very hard for me. We were having people 3-4 people die per shift, per floor as well, in addition to whoever else was coding or being intubated or experiencing respiratory distress, etc. and that was just in our unit. But the codes were happening all over the hospital. I also constantly worried that I was going to bring the virus home and it would be on me If anything happened to my family, or anyone else around me for that matter. I haven’t been able to even conceive of sleep and rest. I continue having nightmares and, on one occasion, a panic attack.

As far as physical effects, I found myself extremely exhausted caring for the patients with the personal protective equipment on, running back and forth every time a code was announced on the overhead. It was hard to breathe 12 hours with the same N95 mask, not much time for water and food, and forget about using the bathroom. Most days we were short staff because other nurses contracted the virus, this made the floor assignments a lot heavier and scarier.  

Q: What advice do you have for others entering your field during a time of crisis? 

A: My advice to anyone entering this field would be to remember that medicine is unpredictable, and that for this type of job, love for nursing the ill is what needs to guide them. In addition, I would tell them to remember that we never really know what’s going to happen in the future. Today may be a pandemic. Tomorrow may be caring for wounded soldiers, new diseases yet to be understood, new challenges, etc. This is a selfless profession and when entering this profession, we are vowing to care for the ill no matter the circumstances.

Q: What have you observed of COVID-19’s impact on your field, community, city, nationally, from the perspective of your profession during this time? 

A: It definitely changed and is still changing my field. We have a better understanding now how to deal with the virus, and we are taking the necessary precautions to avoid spreading the infection. As far as the community, it is our job to educate and re-educate our communities, so they may be informed on how to prevent the spread. Some changes have been enforced but more needs to be done. I’ve seen the community attempt to avoid catching the virus by using masks and gloves, but those same gloves they used ended up on the street. Now someone else needs to pick them up, putting them in danger as well. As part of the community, we need to be more aware of our actions. Same for every community, city and our nation. I believe the leaders failed us, put us at risk and took little to no responsibility. The lack of personal protective equipment for all hospital health care workers, for example. We were sent to fight a battle with an invisible enemy with no weapon and no protection.

This Q&A has been edited for style and length.

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