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COVID-19 As a Student and Healthcare Worker

November 20th, 2020

By: Porsche Fellers

In March, my boyfriend and I were meeting my family in California for spring break. It was the first vacation I had taken in a long time because I had worked every weekend that semester. Suddenly I got an email from the University of Arizona (UArizona) extending spring break by one week because of the increasing coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the United States.

My first thought when reading the email was, “Score! I get an extra week to study for my anatomy practical exam.” Looking back, it’s funny that was my priority then and now it is making sure I have a mask with me everywhere I go and hand sanitizer in my bag.

My school life has been impacted every day since that email. My life had been built around going onto campus, not only for class but to do homework and spend time with friends.

When UArizona eventually switched to an entirely online format not only did I not have a desk, I didn’t have room to put one! Instead I would sit with my laptop on a TV tray in my living room for more than 10 hours a day.

On top of that, my job as a Patient Care Assistant in a Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (ICU) was different too.

Before COVID-19, I would spend my shifts assisting post-op cardiac surgery patients recover. This included helping them with their daily tasks such as going for walks and brushing their teeth as well as helping with patient recovery from the operating room. When we stopped doing elective surgeries, the Medical ICU was converted into a COVID unit. My unit became the overflow.

My patients did not have COVID, but they were still very sick.

With more COVID cases, the amount of resources needed grew and that meant everyone had to take turns covering the COVID unit.

I was terrified the first time I worked with COVID patients. The morning I walked into the unit unsure of what these patients were going to be like. I knew the proper way to put on and take off my personal protective equipment (PPE), but there was still anxiety in the back of my head saying “what if I do it wrong? What if I spread COVID all over the unit? What if I bring COVID home and give it to my boyfriend?” However, once the initial anxiety ended, it was just like any other ICU.

I still had to help the nurses get patients up onto chairs. We took turns repositioning a patient who was on a ventilator to prevent skin breakdown. It is all still the same patient care but with carefully added steps for increased protection.

The United State is continuing to break records for new COVID-19 cases nearly every day as the holiday season approaches with the New York Times reporting the daily average of new cases this past week reaching 155,442 – an 82 percent increase from the average 2 weeks ago.

The U.S. has now confirmed more than 11.3 million COVID cases since the pandemic began and hospitalizations have now surpassed a record 70,000, with COVID-related deaths now exceeding 248,000.

As a student, I want school to go back to normal but being on the clinical side of COVID has given me a different perspective on the pandemic.

I know it is imperative we stay home and only go out when needed and wear masks when we do. If we all work together and do what is best for the community, life will eventually go back to normal.

Porsche Fellers is a Junior at the University of Arizona studying Pre-Nursing. She is also a recipient of the College Success Arizona scholarship and worked with the Arizona College Access Network (AzCAN) to publish this piece.

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