Carly Caggiano was angry.

Carly Caggiano works as a nurse on a COVID-19 floor in Massachusetts where she says she is swimming in the disease every day. Submitted photo

Her neighbor recently had a big birthday party. She could hear it from her house.

“I was so angry. I almost called the police,” said the former Cumberland resident works as a nurse on a COVID-19 floor in a Massachusetts hospital.

“Here I am putting my life at risk,” she said, “and you guys think the rules don’t apply to you? Every social interaction you are having is impacting my family’s health.”

Cathy Hall Ferrara, who is originally from Hebron, is a nurse on a COVID-19 ward in a New Jersey hospital. “They busted a party down here the other day. There were 50 people in a 500-square-foot apartment with a DJ,” she told the Sun Journal. “They don’t get it.”

The day the Sun Journal spoke to Caggiano, she was recovering from a challenging shift. “Just code after code after code,” she said of the dying patients.

“I’ve worked on this floor for three years,” she said. “I can count on one hand the amount of codes that we’ve had on this floor in the last three years. So the fact that we had three in an eight-hour period is nothing I’ve ever seen.”

She said one patient’s heart had stopped and her team had to put a tube down the patient’s throat so the machine could breathe for him.

“We had a patient who coded and we had to intubate him. We’re wearing huge masks that cover our entire head. It looks like we’re in a ‘Star Trek’ movie,” Caggiano said.

She said some nurses are reconsidering their jobs because they can’t sleep anymore.

“They’re having panic attacks at work,” she said. “I am swimming in COVID-19 when I’m at work. Every single patient has it,” Caggiano said.

Ferrara’s hospital, in central New Jersey, has been converting all possible spaces into makeshift ICUs. “They’ve been shrinking the regular floors that take surgical patients, they’ve been consolidating, consolidating, consolidating.”

COVID-19 patients have been arriving from affiliated hospitals. “It’s kind of a war dance,” she said. “It changes every minute.”

Managers who had served as assistants on a unit are now heading up their own units, she said. Everybody’s wearing different hats,” Ferrara said.

When it became known that personal protective equipment, or PPE, was going to be in short supply, Ferrara said her hospital came up with an innovative solution.

To reduce the number of necessary trips into patient rooms, which required donning the necessary gown, mask, face shield and gloves, hospital maintenance crews were instructed to drill holes through the wall of the patient’s room into the adjacent hallway so intravenous pumps could be maintained by staff at a safe distance from the infected patient. That saved precious protective equipment and the time it would take to put it on and take it off.

For nurses who provide contact care and are at the patient’s side, the shift in focus to preserving protective equipment and limiting physical contact with the patients has posed an emotional challenge.

Cathy Hall Ferrara, formerly of Hebron, is a nurse on a COVID-19 floor in a New Jersey hospital. When she comes home from work she has an extensive decontamination routine to help keep her family safe. Submitted photo

“I’m a bedside nurse, Ferrara said. “I want to be with my patient. You can’t do the little things that you want to do for these patients. They’re totally alone.”

Before the coronavirus invaded the hospitals, she said, she would go into a patient’s room, help them wash their hair or brush their teeth, talk about their family, talk about their life.

“We can’t do that now because we have to limit patient contact as much as possible,” Caggiano said. “These patients are so lonely and so scared.”

It’s necessary for the staff to stay healthy so they can continue to treat the flood of patients suffering from COVID-19.

Some patients use iPads to communicate with nurses. But not all patients understand how to use today’s technology.

“My heart breaks for older people who are sick and still awake,” Ferrara said. “You can’t do anything other than wave back” at them through the windows.

Perhaps the most important aspect of working with COVID-19 patients is to stop the spread of the virus, both nurses said.

Each of them has an elaborate decontamination routine after work to protect their families from catching the virus.

Caggiano typically gets home at midnight and strips down inside her unheated garage, then heads straight to the shower.

“Thank goodness I have a garage,” she said. “There’s a lot of people stripping down in the public view.”

She showers for half an hour, then retraces her steps to disinfect with bleach, wiping every surface that she’s touched. She then disinfects her car’s steering wheel, foot pedals, and anything else she’s touched in the car and any surface on which she placed her belongings.

Next, she disinfects her belongings. She keeps her work shoes and coat in the garage.

The process takes about an hour and a half every night.

“When you’re swimming in worst-case scenarios, it’s hard not to think that’s it’s going to happen to you and your children and your husband, that you’re bringing it home from work,” Caggiano said.

Likewise, Ferrara reports a thorough scrubbing when arriving home.

“When I come back from the hospital, my shoes stay outside the back door. I have an area that I go to. I just go in and I strip,” she said.

“I have a shower in my basement,” she said. “I’m probably going to be bald by the time this is over because I scrub my head so hard. Then I wipe everything down that I’ve touched and go upstairs.”

Ferrara’s family is keeping their circles small.

Her family belongs to an Episcopal church, which is conducting services via the internet.

“I came home from work yesterday morning and sat in my pajamas and watched my daughter singing the hymns at church, live, on Zoom,” she said. “It’s surreal. But it’s kind of cool.”

The hardest thing is worrying about her parents and in-laws in Maine, Ferrara said, and knowing that if something happened, she couldn’t do anything for them. She could not go see them because visitors would not be allowed in the hospital.

She has been pleading with them not to make frequent trips to the grocery store the way they might have done before the pandemic.

“Just because you have a craving for something, you don’t need to go,” she tells them repeatedly.

Caggiano admits she did not take the pandemic as seriously at the beginning as she might have had she known what she does now. Her family moved forward with a planned vacation to Italy during the first week of March.

“I was not scared of this virus,” Caggiano remembers thinking.

“Worst-case scenario, (she thought) we’ll have some flu symptoms. Let’s go to Italy,” she said.

The family had a “great trip” to Italy, and on their return, landed themselves in a two-week quarantine.

“We had not prepared for that,” she said. “The quarantine was tough. The lack of social interaction is very hard.”

But now, looking back, she can see the bright side of being holed up in her home.

“I wish I could go back and quarantine, instead of what I’m doing now,” she said. “I absolutely wish I could stay in my bunker and not have to see what I’m seeing” in the hospital.

“I have seen a lot in my 19 years of nursing and nothing has been this scary,” she said.

“My family’s health depends on every social interaction you have,” she said. “I wish I could show everyone what I’m seeing. I guarantee you’d never leave your house until this is over.”

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