Nurses at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital in Pontiac wear cover masks created by Orion Township resident and seamstress Peggy Barry Bartz, who adds a loving touch to her work with a heart. Photo provided by Bridgette Giampa.
By Jim Newell
For many in the medical field the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis fraught with equipment shortages, a lack of personal protection equipment and an influx of patients.
There’s no vaccine for the Coronavirus, the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness, so doctors and nurses also face the danger of contracting the virus themselves.
Bridgette Giampa works in the neurosciences department at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital in Pontiac, mainly helping stroke patients and those with neurological issues. Giampa has been a nurse practitioner for six years and a nurse for the past 12 years.
On Monday, Giampa, who lives in Orion Township, shared her experiences and observations with The Lake Orion Review so that the public could get a first hand perspective of what healthcare workers are facing.
“What they’ve done is cut down to only essential staff in certain areas, which means the emergency department, the COVID floors and the ICUs. The patients that require ICU treatment that are non-COVID patients have been moved to what used to be the pre-op surgical, post-op surgical areas. The ICU is filled with COVID patients. And there’s two floors, and talk expanding into a third floor, of COVID patients,” Giampa said.
As of Monday, there were 1,012 new cases of COVID-19 and 52 new deaths in Michigan because of the virus, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The state’s total number of COVID-19 cases as of 3 p.m. Monday was 6,498, with 184 deaths.
Oakland County had 1,365 reported cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, with 48 deaths from the virus. Oakland county is second in the state in both categories, behind only Detroit/Wayne County.
Giampa said the doctors and nurses are in uncharted territory, at least in their lifetimes, in dealing with the influx of patients and the spread of the pandemic.
“No, I’ve never seen anything like this, no one has. Even the doctors who have been there forever, no one has ever seen the amount of patients that are coming in sick with the strangest symptoms. Just so sick and they deteriorate rapidly when come in, and that’s the problem,” she said.
Besides the COVID-19 patients, the hospital must still take care of patients with other ailments and injuries.
“So, if you think about it, hospitals are typically 95-100 percent full normally, and now you add this influx of COVID patients that are coming in – there’s just no place for patients to go. That’s why FEMA’s (Federal Emergency Management Agency) setting up that hospital in downtown Detroit.”
Giampa said that while the nurses and doctors are medical professionals used to dealing with sick patients, they are still affected by the magnitude of the pandemic and the sacrifices they must make, from possibly exposing themselves and their families to the virus.
“I think it’s taking a toll on everyone. One of the doctors that I’m friends with took her baby over to stay with her parents because she doesn’t want to take the chance of having her baby infected in any way. Her husband is also in the medical field, so they took their baby over to her parents for an indefinite amount of time.”
On days Giampa works, it’s a series of outfit changes from the time she leaves her home until she returns. She has clothes that she wears from her house to her car and to the hospital, that she then changes out of once she gets into the hospital.
“I change into another set of scrubs with a different pair of shoes and wear that through the hospital during my work day.”
When she leaves the hospital for the day, she changes again, bagging up her work scrubs and changing into another outfit to drive home.
When she gets home, she has to undress in the garage, bag up her travel clothes and put everything into the washing machine on hot and then immediately gets into a hot shower.
“This is the daily routine. How do you not bring it home to your family? You live with other people, how do you make sure you’re not bringing it home, too?” Giampa said, adding that healthcare workers are taking every precaution to protect their families, often sacrificing time with them.
“I know some people are sleeping in their basements. I’ve heard some doctors say they’re sleeping in their garages. It’s crazy.”
Giampa herself has a new grandson who she stopped seeing a few weeks before the pandemic really began. She said she saw what was happening in other areas and knew it was the right thing to do to step back and keep her distance.
“It’s tough. It’s an emotionally weird and tough time, but we’re doing okay,” she said, adding that Facetime helps to connect with family.
Having a support system helps, and Giampa said the staff watches out for one another.
“Among the nurses especially, the nurses really have a tendency to take care of each other. They’re very cognizant of what’s going on and are trying to be positive with each other,” Giampa said.
“It’s not just the nurses and doctors. It’s the housekeepers who have to go in and clean the rooms and the food service delivery people. There’s so many people involved in the direct care of the patients that even limiting it (to essential personnel) involves a lot of people,” Giampa said.
And the support from the general public during the pandemic crisis does mean a lot to medical professionals.
“I think that the outpouring from the community really helps so much. It really helps keep people’s spirits up. I know we’ve had some donations… of masks that have been brought into the hospital. Everyone really appreciates it and it lets them know that they’re not totally going it alone.
“It sometimes feels, when you’re in the hospital, that no one really understands what’s going on and how serious things are. And when people reach out and do things like that, it really helps. Especially our emergency room people; I think they’re getting hit the hardest, the ICUs – they have the hardest jobs out of everybody.”
And while guidelines on staying home, social distancing and handwashing seem to be coming from every direction, they cannot be stressed enough as the best ways to limit the spread of the Coronavirus.
“Not to be redundant, but it’s really important to practice the (six feet) separation, to be away from people so that we can stop this curve, so that we can lower this curve so that less people end up getting sick. Washing your hands, keeping cleans, distancing yourself as much as you can (from others).”
Giampa said she sees people adhering to guidelines when she’s in the grocery store.
“It’s interesting to watch how people react. They’re definitely keeping their social distance. There weren’t that many people at Kroger yesterday. Normally, you go on a Sunday and it’s crazy. So, you can see that people are practicing it.”
Giampa also wants people to consider their own families and how they would want their family members treated.
“Treat everybody like they’re your family,” she said. “I will say, our community, when you walk around, you’re out, you’re doing something, people seem to be doing pretty good. Our little town, it looks like people are doing a good job. You don’t see a lot of people on the streets. When you see people in Kroger, they’re apart from each other.
“I think that everyone is trying to do the best they can with the knowledge they have.”
Giampa also cautions people to be aware of false information – like the initial belief that young people couldn’t become infected with the Coronavirus – being circulated online and urges people to get their information from reputable sources.
“Make sure that it’s true. Make sure that the information you’re passing along is the right information,” she said, citing the Centers for Disease Control (cdc.gov/coronavirus) and the World Health Organization.