Coping with COVID-19; medical mentality

  • Published
  • By Jessica L. Kendziorek
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, test is being done like a drive-through window with multiple stations along the route.

For Senior Airman Hardy Watts, 403rd Security Forces Squadron fire team member, being the final stop of this drive-through line is his new task for his civilian job as a medical assistant.

As a medical assistant Watts normally does patient triage before the doctors see them, but since the COVID-19 began making its way through the nation, he was tasked to be part of a new COVID-19 task force at Ascension Sacred Heart Pensacola, Florida.

“Now instead of being inside,” said Watts. “I am out in the parking lot on the line testing people for COVID-19.”

Watts said that before people can be tested they have to call the hospital for a pre-screening, then once they have an appointment, they come through the line.

They never get out of their car, the first stop gets them checked in, where their ID’s are checked, and vitals recorded. They then move to the second stop in the line, where they are given their paperwork for the testing, verify the information and move to the final step.

“This is where I work, the final step,” he said. “I have to explain the testing procedure, then perform the test while they are in the car.”

Being on the front line in the testing process is a daunting task for the medical profession, but being on the front line is nothing new to members of a fire team. They are the Airmen in the ‘line of fire’ whenever they deploy, along with other members of the Air Force Reserve. 

Being on the front line is something that Master Sgt. Danielle Allaire, 41st Aerial Port Squadron air transportation specialist, passenger service noncommissioned officer in charge, is familiar with, from both military deployments and in her civilian job as a travel nurse.

As a travel nurse, Allaire has to get familiar with a new hospital or medical center that she contracts with, which is similar to going on a deployment and working with people she normally would not.

“Right now, I am contracted to a hospital located in Dothan, Alabama, and assigned to the cardiac-surgical floor,” she said.

When the COVID-19 crisis started, one hallway of the cardiac-surgical ward was shut off to help with those patients; however, she watched it go from one hallway to the entire floor, which includes the intensive care unit.

“Working as a nurse, we normally have help from medical assistants, lab techs and others,” said Allaire. “Now we are having to do everything for all of the patients, including giving the medication, monitoring vitals, doing blood draws for labs, checking the oxygen levels, and even cleaning up the patients.”

Some of the changes that she has seen, is the handling of the personal protective equipment and the lack of supplies. Everyone has to wear a surgical mask at work all day and before nurses enter a patient’s room they have to put on a full gown, gloves and N95 mask.

“In the military, we are used to having to work around situations where we may not have what we need, but we still need to deal with it and get the job done” she said.

Another change is having nurses come in from other floors to help with the COVID patients, but they aren’t used to where everything is located, which is causes a bit of tension while working.  

“We teamed up the new nurses to the floor with the ones who are regularly staffed in ICU or the cardiac-surgical floor as a way to help each other and keep everyone mentally healthy in order to keep going,” she said.

But that isn’t the only stress that Allaire said she is dealing with.

With the April and May Unit Training Assemblies being postponed, she said she has to wonder about how they are going to keep everyone up-to-date on their training and medical requirements.

“As a supervisor in APS, an additional stress is making sure that my Airmen are okay,” she said. “Even though being a reservist is a part-time gig, I also worry about how those younger Airmen are doing mentally and financially, because I know some depend on that income.”

Being able to talk to others in the same position helps keeps her mentally healthy, she said.

“Having deployed overseas puts me in a better position than some of my civilian co-workers mentally,” said Allaire. “Being part of the military, I already know that I am prepared to make sacrifices for others.”