Access Now: AORN COVID-19 Clinical Support

Archive September 2020 XXI, No. 9

Behind Closed Doors: No Worse for Wear

After a COVID-19 scare, I'm headed back to the OR.

Paula Watkins

Paula Watkins, RN, CNOR



Many periop nurses who were laid off or furloughed during the Great Elective Surgery shutdown of 2020 have been back at work for several months, but the pandemic — and a few other setbacks — has kept this traveling RN and PPE enthusiast away from her beloved profession since February.

And believe me, I'm ready to go back. There's only so much cleaning and movie watching to do. I even tried to cook for myself until takeout and curbside service were mercifully restored. The kitchen isn't a good place for me. I've mastered hands-free passing in the OR, but need to brush up on culinary sharps safety because I cut my finger while wielding a knife like a first-year resident. I also burned my arm when I set fire to a pan of grease during a failed attempt to fry potatoes. My cooking days are officially over.

Then, I got sick — twice! First, it was an abdominal issue. Was that a coronavirus symptom? Then came a respiratory malady, which I knew was a red flag. I started thinking about getting my affairs in order. Finally, I went to a doc-in-a-box. Chest films showed pneumonia. A COVID-19 test was next. The ole Q-Tip was pushed far enough up my nose to scratch the frontal lobe. I was given two antibiotics, an inhaler, cough syrup and sent on my way back to the quarantine I was beginning to loathe.

As much as I hated the brain-tickling, panic-inducing nasal swab, the experience was comparably more enjoyable than worrying about my fate. As the late, great Tom Petty said, "The waiting is the hardest part." Four long days later the results were negative. I was relieved, but more determined than ever to become a vigilante about proper use of PPE and kept constant watch for those who refused to don masks.

Trust me, I haven't made any new friends since my COVID-19 scare. I've publicly called people out on their non-compliance. Armed with gloves, two masks, a face shield and a can of Lysol, I'm out for reform.

One opportunity came before boarding a recent flight back to California where I would finally resume my traveling nursing assignment. A couple and their hygiene-challenged four-year-old boy concerned me as we waited close to each other at the gate. The father wore his mask correctly, but the mother hung hers below her mouth. When the tyke actually wore a mask, it was on his head. Most of the time, however, he used his PPE to wipe the seat beside his mother. She, of course, was on the phone. I got up and moved to another area of the terminal and prayed they'd be sitting three boarding groups away.

Flying during a pandemic is interesting. I absolutely loved the less-crowded plane. Having an empty seat between me and a potential Typhoid Mary on the aisle kept my germaphobia in relative check. I couldn't carry on my Lysol, but I was armed with hand sanitizer. And yep, I wore my trusty gloves, which help lower my anxiety.

After the long months in isolation, the self-inflicted culinary injuries and the multiple illnesses I've suffered through, I'm thrilled to be back in the OR. I know there have been a few of my brethren stricken with this awful plague, but with all my OCD tendencies, I think I can keep myself safe. I firmly believe I'm safer working in surgery among my wearing-PPE-perfectly kind than in any other place. It's certainly safer than my kitchen. OSM

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