‘Everyday is nerve-racking’: Inside the COVID wards with a nurse’s assistant

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Tatiany Valeriano is a nurse’s assistant on the COVID ward at Mayo Clinic in Lacrosse, Wisc. (Courtesy photo)

(NEXSTAR) – Tatyiany Valeriano has been working on the COVID ward at Mayo Clinic as a nurse’s assistant for a year and a half. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, she says she’s seen she’s become altogether “immune” to death.

“We’ve been around death so much it becomes routine,” she said solemnly.

Valeriano, 22, is studying to become a nurse. Since the beginning of the pandemic, she’s had to question her chosen career path.

“Just last Tuesday alone, I was like, why did I pick a profession that has so much sadness and death? Was this a mistake? But then again I can’t picture doing anything else,” she said.

Valeriano recalled a three-month period — 22 shifts in all — in which someone died every single day.

“When you become a nurse, a lot of people don’t experience death like this,” she said. “But now in a couple months alone, I’ve been here for at least fifty people’s deaths.”

As a nurse’s assistant, Valeriano provides support to the nurses around her. Daily tasks include assisting with procedures, bathing patients, helping people ambulate and transfers.

Even the small to-dos can seem like massive undertakings on a COVID ward. Valeriano has a heart condition herself, and “everyday is nerve-racking” for her.

Before entering a room, Valeriano must fully “suit up” in personal protective equipment (PPE), including an N95 mask, face shield and gown. The procedure has become routine. Anytime she enters a room — even if someone “codes,” or goes into cardiac arrest — she must be fully gowned.

Valeriano recalls a recent patient who came in on the verge of death. Valeriano spent twenty minutes brushing her hair, washing her face and “making her look nice for the family.”

However, when the family came into the room to say goodbye, most of them weren’t wearing masks properly. Valeriano said she could tell they didn’t believe in the dangers of COVID-19, even as they sat with their family member, who’d later die of the virus.

It’s moments like these that make the work “frustrating.”

“They say nurses are strong and have been through a lot, and it’s true,” she said. “But I think every day is so unexpected on a COVID floor…It takes a lot of energy out of you.”

She says she wants to tell people who don’t “believe” in COVID to walk a mile in her shoes.

“They should know that’s ignorant,” she said, “because the people spending their days on these units, we have a bunch of feelings ourselves, but we don’t let them come out because we can’t.”

“Give us some slack,” she concluded, “because it takes a toll.”

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