Rhonda Brown-Parker has been a part of Jefferson’s environmental services department for 16 years. Like most of us, she has never experienced a global pandemic, but now she faces this one each day she arrives to work.
When I first heard that I was being put on an all-COVID unit, I had to quickly mentally prepare myself. I tried to remember that this isn’t anything new for EVS—we service precaution rooms all the time—rooms that you need to gear up before going in. This felt different though. There’s something about this virus that drives my anxiety through the roof with all the unknowns. I tried to block those thoughts from my mind while I collected myself. I didn’t say anything after being given the assignment. I just took in what I was being asked to do and proceeded to go get my PPE supplies I would need for the day.
I went to a nursing office to get my N-95 mask. When Nicole Hatem, a nurse, and Ann Coughlin, the nursing supervisor, came in and asked me what I needed, I burst out crying while telling them I was looking for a mask. They immediately asked me, ‘oh my god! What’s wrong?” At that moment I felt so worked up. I kept thinking about what I’ve been seeing on the news and what was happening in New York. They told me to take a seat, relax, and have a cup of coffee, and reassured me that I was going to be okay. Afterward, I did feel better. I got my shield, my N-95 mask but before I left they both reassured me again and told me that they would check on me later.
Day One on Unit 124
When I get up to Unit 124, I see Taiwo Gbadebo, a charge nurse I’ve worked with on other units before. She gives me one look and I burst into tears again. I confessed I was just feeling scared and nervous. She looked at me and told me I was good and that I had everything I needed to protect myself.
Those words stayed with me while I prepared my cart to service the patient rooms. I took a deep breath before entering the first patient room. I introduced myself and let her know that I would be serving the room for the day. She looks at me from her chair and just says, “Hi, baby!” I could tell she was happy to see another person. I said good morning and did my best not to show her I was scared, but I imagine that they’re all scared too, especially not being able to have family visitors. I cleaned the room, came out, took all of my PPE off, properly disposed of it, washed my hands and got ready to go into the next room.
Sources of Support
I remember feeling so nervous the whole day like it was my first day on the job and I’ve been at Jefferson for 16 years. Taiwo gave me another pep talk later in the day and said, “If you could have come up here six weeks ago, we were all just like you are today.” She reassured me again and the more she kept saying it, the more I truly felt like I started to believe it. I repeated it to myself, “you got the proper PPE, you’re going to be fine.” It’s become my motto every day while I work.
I’ll admit I still have that uncertainty sometimes, feeling scared that I could be exposed, but I come right back to that motto. I wouldn’t have made it through that first day without the support of the nurses and respiratory team. They are all incredible.
I can say that I am the EVS department’s biggest cheerleader. It’s not easy to work on these units. When I think of the housekeepers, I think they’re all courageous. When you go into a room with a patient who hasn’t seen any visitors, you’re not only there to clean the room, you’re going to ask them how their day is going or if they’re feeling better since the day before. And sometimes they’ll ask you how you’re doing. You go beyond your job duties in that sense and become their visitor for the day.
Home is a Haven
When I get home at the end of the day, my husband will ask me how my day went. These days, I say, just like any other day. I feel safe at home and am happy knowing that my family is doing well. I am extra cautious when coming home to make sure I don’t bring the virus back with me. I have work shoes that stay at work and shoes I’ll wear at home. My uniform goes into a bag to be washed in hot water and after a shower, I start to feel normal again.
At home, I don’t have to wear a mask all day. That comes off and so does the stress of the job.