‘It is not far from us. It is actually here’: Indiana ER nurse describes what medical professionals face during coronavirus pandemic

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – What’s it like to be on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in Indiana?

We talked to Jennipher Ringer, an emergency room nurse.

She told us she usually does her normal three-day, 12-hour shift and picks up additional shifts as needed. She has sent her children to her in-laws, where they’ve been staying since Sunday.

“In any ER situation, you never know what you’re going to go in and deal with. That’s kind of the bittersweet part of working in the emergency room. You have to be ready to handle anything that comes through the door,” she said.

“We have a lot of concerns from patients about having the hallmark symptoms, so we treat everybody with our standard PPE set. If they have certain complaints, we prepare for it to be [coronavirus]. We would rather be overprotected than underprotected,” she said.

Ringer said nurses have never confronted a situation like this. They are concerned about their patients’ health and supplies, in addition to their own health and the health of their families.

“You don’t want to be the one that brings something home and infects your own kids or family or parents,” she said. “So, you have [your] own stress and anxiety the minute you get a seasonal allergy with a stuffy nose or itchy eye. You’re automatically concerned and worried, ‘Is this a sign or symptom of something I need to be more prepared to deal with?’ That added stress and anxiety is added on top of the already frenzied anxiety around health care and the hospitals right now.”

Ringer says her fear isn’t for herself; it’s for her patients or getting someone else sick. Her children are moderate to high risk and would get incredibly sick if they contracted COVID-19.

Ringer came to our attention after writing a Facebook post in which she begged people to stay home. She also told people they shouldn’t come to the ER unless absolutely necessary.

She said even she had initially underestimated the severity—or “monstrosity," as she called it—of COVID-19.

“I had an eye-opening shift and immediately, the minute I could take a break, texted my in-laws and asked them to just hold onto the boys for a while. I was seeing people still crowded in the grocery stores. I was still seeing on the news people on the beaches down in Florida. I was still seeing people walking their pets in groups and kids running back and forth to each other’s houses,” Ringer said.

“It is not far from us. It is actually here. America has always had this bulletproof, you-can’t-touch-me type mindset in our culture, and I feel like until people start seeing this for what it is and how bad it is, they’re not understanding.”

She says she separated herself and her husband from their kids after her eye-opening shift. She couldn’t go into many specifics, but she said a patient came in and was talking fine. Within 10 to 15 minutes, the patient was no longer capable of talking.

"It’s a very fast and rapid decline,” she said. “That's my eye-opening moment. It was with one patient at that moment that everything just kind of clicked, and someone slapped me in the face with the reality of what this was.”

She said cases like that are becoming more common. She feels like we’re at the start of this pandemic on the state level.

“Hearing about how poorly your family member is doing on a ventilator or how they were fine in the hospital, they still have this cough, they come home. And then all of the sudden, they’re not fine anymore and they have to go back. It becomes this giant snowball, and it’s devastating.”

Ringer said the stay-at-home order and social distancing are absolutely vital. People should not be together in groups and should isolate themselves at home as much as possible. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to control the spread.

“We want to help our patients. We want to be available. We want to be able to have the best possible outcome for them.”

Her biggest challenge has been seeing patients who are coming in and don’t have emergencies. Those patients aren’t getting turned away, but Ringer said, especially right now, it’s vital that people come to the ER only if necessary.

Another Facebook post also showed the marks on her face from her protective gear at the end of the day. It’s overwhelming, she said, to put on the protective gear. However, knowing it’s for her protection makes it somewhat easier. The N95 masks must be fitted to a person's face to be effective; otherwise, they don’t do much good.

Once she’s taken off her PPE, she finally feels like she can take a deep breath. She said the lines on her face from the gear remind her that she wore her protection and it did its job. She has not experienced bruising, although other medical professionals have.

She has appreciated the love and support the community has shown medical professionals. They've sent food, cards and encouraging messages.

"To all of those who've adhered to the social distancing and actually followed those orders, I want to say thank you to you guys. It might not feel like it right now, but it is going to be a huge help in the long run. I just want you to still follow those protocols. Stay inside. Stay away from people. Just order online."

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