LOS ANGELES, Calif. - As the pandemic continues, nurses at the LAC+USC Medical Center are calling for better protective equipment, or PPE. They worry that leaving even a small area of their bodies exposed can put them and their families at risk.
One concerned nurse is Natalie Gordon, who says heading into work feels like going into battle against an unseen enemy.
"This is a passion of mine and I think it is for many of us," she said. "We do what is considered 'heroics' everyday and now, we are at a greater risk, for sure, but I still kind of feel like I'm just doing my job."
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Her job as an ER nurse puts her on the frontlines against coronavirus. Her armor - PPE.
"On a normal day before all of this, it would be just enough to protect our clothes, like a gown, if it happened to be a significant trauma," she explained. "But now we are all wearing surgical masks - that is in order to protect others, just in case, any of us happens to be a carrier and we don't know it."
When Gordon treats patients with coronavirus, she puts on additional armor. "Full gown, gloves, face shield, N95 masks, bonnet and booties for our feet," she said.
Still, Gordon says that is not enough for her protection.
"There are areas of our body that are not covered - parts of our legs, our neck, parts of our face. We feel a little bit vulnerable at times not having everything covered," Gordon said.
She throws away PPE after seeing a patient except for the face shield. The hospital doesn't have enough so she has to wash and reuse them when seeing the same patient.
“I don't want to have to clean something and hope that I did a good job and then put it back on my face hoping that I didn't cross-contaminate in some way," she said. "These things aren't meant to be reused over and over again, so they’re disposable for a reason."
Gordon says even if she didn't reuse face shields, she wants more coverage in the form of Tyvek suits, which protect the entire body from exposure.
"If a sneeze, you know, occurs, if I happen to be near a patient and my neck is uncovered, then it's going to get on my neck. It could get on parts of my body that I might not be quite as aware of," Gordon said. "And then for whatever reason that spot gets missed in the shower or something like that, I'm bringing it home."
The nurse says ironically, some hospital custodial workers wear Tyvek suits when cleaning out rooms with coronavirus patients. "The kicker is that we are aware that those suits exist and are accessible. There's just a big question as to why they're not accessible on a regular basis for whomever may feel that they need it at any given point," she said.
She says potentially exposing herself to the virus makes her nervous, especially with two young children at home.
"It's really difficult. They want to see me when I get home. They want to see me before I go and everything in between and I can’t get too close to them for fear of if I happen to be sick," she said.
Gordon also ordered a tent and plans to set it up in her backyard to further protect her family from exposure.
In the meantime, she continues to heed the call to fight the pandemic. "I have definitely had some days that are more stressful in the past few years than I’ve had so far in this pandemic," Gordon said. "I’m sure that will be changing soon as the numbers increase but this is just what we do."
Gordon is a member of SEIU Local 721, which has asked LAC+USC Medical Center to provide more PPE for its nurses, including Tyvek suits. A union official says it's working with the hospital on a daily basis to make sure those needs are met.