On the N95 mask, Riley and his colleagues superimposed a paper surgical mask because their only N95 mask would be exposed to the COVID-19 virus, then they supplemented it with a plastic face shield.
Sometimes she couldn’t find a shoe cover.
“I had to take these blue hats … like shower caps and put two on each foot, and they are really slippery and hard to walk,” she said on Wisconsin public radio. “But I had to cover my feet because I go through COVID all day. “
In early April, Riley, a registered nurse from Barron County, responded to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s call for medical professionals to come to New York to help fight the epidemic of coronavirus that has infected nearly 200,000 people in the city.
And even with all the protective gear and precautions, she too was infected with COVID-19. She said she got it in New York, but couldn’t get tested before returning to Wisconsin. She has been recovering slowly since returning home. For more than three weeks, she has been isolating and trying to prevent her husband from also being infected.
“Usually, I just stay in my room so there is no possibility that I will infect it,” she said. “But if not, I wear a mask and we stay 10 feet apart and I can’t really touch everything he’s going to touch. “
During recovery, she still cannot smell or taste, easily experiences shortness of breath and is exhausted.
Riley had not worked in an intensive care unit for years when she contacted a company recruiting emergency workers for nurses to volunteer in areas hard hit by COVID-19.
And they said, “Great … can you get here tomorrow? It’s at this speed that it all happened. “I explained that it has been years and years since I had experience in intensive care, but I felt like I could learn it again,” she said. “And they said,” Great … can you get here tomorrow? “It’s how quickly it all happened. “
She was assigned to the Woodhull Medical Center in Brooklyn. Originally, she was in an intensive care unit that was built to be one – she had glass doors so that providers could see the patient and their beds were close enough to the doors for IV pumps to be replaced without having to enter the room.
Eventually, a medical surgical unit had to be transformed into a makeshift intensive care unit because of the number of patients who needed ventilation, said Riley. She spent the first few days in the real intensive care unit, then was permanently transferred to the makeshift intensive care unit.
“It was in theory a good idea, but in practice it was very difficult to manage because it was not designed to be an intensive care unit,” she said. “The doors are all wooden doors and you cannot see through them. But if you open them, you run the risk of infection or virus transmission in the hospital. “
“It was really very difficult,” said Riley.
Easter Sunday was particularly difficult, she said. They had seven blue codes – a medical emergency like cardiac or respiratory arrest – that day.
“From these codes, we had three deaths and we would barely have to reconstitute a code card, then someone else would code, and it seemed like there was nothing but death everywhere” she said.
Riley mainly treated patients on respirators. She described the situation as like entering a different world every day. During her stay there, no one she treated with a ventilator was kidnapped.
“They cannot speak because they are ventilated and sedated,” she said. “You talk to them and hope they can hear and understand you so that they are not afraid. “
Each morning on her bus ride to the hospital, Riley wrote for about 30 minutes to organize her thoughts and process what was going on.
She wants people to understand that COVID-19 is not just the flu.
“It is a terrible disease, it is very difficult to fight and it is easy to contract,” she said. “I had all the protective gear I needed and I still have it.”