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In the midst of a second COVID-19 surge, one nurse asks, "Why are we doing this again?"

Nurse Kate Beauchamp wearing PPE.
Courtesy Kate Beauchamp

More than 3,800 people in Michigan are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Deaths from the virus are rising as well. As cases continue to rise across the state, we’re talking with folks who have been personally impacted by the pandemic.

Among those hardest hit are health care professionals.

Kate Beauchamp is a nurse at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor. She worked through the first wave of COVID and is now gearing up for the second.

Which means she’s back to sleeping in the basement -- away from her wife and kids in order to keep them safe. That’s not the only precaution she’s taking.

“If I'm going to hug any one of my family, I've got to be wearing a mask. Unless they're hugging me from behind,” she said.

Taking precautions

After each shift at the hospital, Beauchamp’s routine is pretty much the same.

“So, at the end of a shift, I take off the surgical scrubs, change into my home shoes, put on a cloth mask. Then I exit the building get in my car. Once I'm in my car, I hand sanitize again. And drive home.

“I had a couple of moments today, when I was a little disheartened. When a patient was, you know, anxious and upset and couldn’t remember why they were in the hospital and I had to say, 'hang on just a second, I’ll be right there!' And put on all this PPE before I could go in and reassure them. It’s sad.

“And I’m headed home so that I can have my decontamination shower and hug my family.”

When the people caring for the sick get sick

"In the spring, my floor quickly went to be all COVID. Honestly, all of the nurses and techs and doctors were somewhat traumatized because we were facing something that we didn't have very much information about. There would be days when our PPE protocols would change several times during a shift. And it wasn't for a lack of leadership. I feel like they did their very best.

When we're talking about a pandemic, we're talking about not just protecting yourself and your family, but protecting your neighbors, protecting your community.

"It was really chaotic. It was really scary. We were all trying to step up. We were all trying to do what we could. We were picking up extra shifts.

"And then and then we started getting sick.

"My first symptoms were a shortness of breath. I started getting fevers and chills, body aches, nausea, extreme fatigue. And I quarantined in my basement. After about two weeks, I was able to get up the stairs to go outside.  I felt like I had climbed a mountain.

"I have to say those couple of weeks were the sickest I've ever been in my life."

“Why are we doing this again?”

"Right now, my floor's has been COVID for about a week, so our numbers just went up. While we're all having a little PTSD from the spring, we feel a lot more prepared.

"In terms of PPE, I feel like our hospital is doing a really great job. We have face shields. We have goggles we could use instead. N-95s we're still reusing. But we have a practice where you use them for 10 shifts and 10 shifts only. And at the end of every shift, they brought in this little UV box where we're irradiating the masks to kind of clean them.

"I feel like my hospital is doing their best to keep us safe.

“There is a sense of frustration in myself and other health care workers that we feel like, why are we doing this again? Like we  - our - our governor put in some life saving measures. And really the main reason I think we were able to keep it under control in the spring and not let it get way worse was because everything shut down.

“When we're talking about a pandemic, we're talking about not just protecting yourself and your family, but protecting your neighbors, protecting your community. And the fact that people are not able to wear a simple mask to protect their more vulnerable neighbors is, it's enraging. I'm mad.”

Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.
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