This is a candid interview with local mom and nurse anesthetist/CRNA, Claire Farren. Claire gives us an eye into what it’s like to live through this pandemic as a nurse inside a COVID 19 ICU. I first met claire three years ago this June because she was my nurse during a semi-routine surgery. She was so comforting and personable and I don’t know that I’ve ever had a chance to properly thank her for that. It meant the world to me and my family.
Today, Claire Farren, and so many in our communities, face completely new, uncharted aspects of her profession. Claire is brave, and her bravery is exemplified in all aspects of her life. She’s brave for her family, for her community and for giving us this vulnerably insightful interview. If you know a loved one facing a critical COVID 19 diagnosis, we hope that this interview brings you a small sense of comfort in knowing how hard the caregivers and hospital staff are working around the clock for your loved one, how much they empathize and care deeply for your family.
Overall, besides giving “civilians” an eye into COVID 19 ICU, what do you wish the general public knew?
I wish people would understand that COVID 19 is a ‘novel virus’ which means no human on earth has been exposed to it. What this means is that we are ALL susceptible to it. Think of how the native Americans had never been exposed to small pox and other European diseases and how it devastated those communities. This is the same thing with COVID 19. Additionally, I wish people would understand this is not just something affecting ‘old people in their 80s’. Many patients are in their 40s, 50s, 60s and are very sick, have potentially long lasting health problems, and even losing their lives. So please follow the social distancing, shelter in place orders.
You are a nurse anesthetist/CRNA at a local hospital. What is your position now during this pandemic?
Yes, normally, as a nurse anesthetist/CRNA, I give anesthesia to people coming in for surgery and care for them during their surgery. Now because the need for critical care nurses is so great, I am working in the ICU as a bedside nurse taking care of only patients with COVID-19
You are one of the only people that a COVID-19 patient has contact with. How do you deal with that?
It’s probably the hardest part. I always talked to my patients when I was an ICU nurse. A family once commented how they loved that I talked to them. I said you never know when someone is there listening. So I talk to my patients as though they are my own parent, sibling, friend. I try my best to tell them the day, the weather, how they are doing, whether I talked to their family or not. I hope that if I am the last thing they remember, they remember someone cared about them.
Are you scared?
Yes, I am scared because this is mentally the hardest thing I have had to do in my career and I have seen a lot in 20 years. I am scared because I have mild asthma and if I got sick what that would be like. But its okay to be scared, being scared means you are about to do something really brave.
How many patients survive after being put on a ventilator?
That is hard to say, I do not really know. We tend to take care of the same patients for several days and are so focused on them that you might not know what is going on with other patients. Most of the patients in the ICU are on ventilators or will end up on a ventilator. The ICU has the most critically ill patients.
How are your patients coping with being in isolation?
Most of these patients handle it well. They are very sick but are very cooperative, we let them facetime with their families as much as we can. But the majority of the patients in the ICU are on ventilators and are sedated/medically induced coma.
Grueling. What is your current work schedule?
My schedule now is usually a 12 hours shift in the ICU with a 30 minutes handoff to the next nurse, followed by a shower at the hospital before I can leave. So I am working about 13 hour days, 3 days a week. I work a week at a time of night shift, usually working three nights in a row and sleeping during the day.
And what is your protocol when you return home… regarding proper sanitizing, etc.?
I try to bring very little with me to work. I keep shoes at the hospital that are similar to crocs that I can wipe at the end of my shift and keep shower stuff at work. I bring my phone in a plastic bag, an old shopping bag with a spare set of clothes, my lunch in case we don’t have it provided. Before I leave the hospital, I have to shower at work. Once I get home I immediately get undressed in my garage, wipe the door handles down, throw my clothes in the wash, shower, wash my clothes (separate from the rest of my family). I then wipe down my keys and phone with a clorox wipe.
How do you handle your stress during this very challenging time?
I have been a runner for many years, I started when I was in graduate school and needed to deal with the stress of that. I have found running and working out to be a great stress and anxiety reliever. I have been doing Peleton treadmill runs with my fav Jess Sims, I love her energy. I try to meditate with the Headspace app and reflect on how much I have, and how fortunate we are. I try to think of ways to help others in our community. I have been making masks at home to help others in our community who need masks. I am hoping the weather starts to get warmer to work on our garden. We have a raised garden bed and plant lots of veggies. I am not very good but its fun and something my son and I enjoy doing together. And of course a little wine!
Do you have adequate PPE at your hospital and do you feel that the hospital is able to meet all of the needs of the workers?
Yes. We are careful with our supplies. Some things can be cleaned easily like a face shield so we can reuse them until they do not work as we only wear them for an hour or so. Our N95s were limited but we have a stable supply but I try, as do most of my colleagues, to be conscientious with their use. With this behavior we have been able to maintain adequate PPE. I feel very protected with what I have at work.
What precautions do you and your family take to stay safe and well?
We have been isolating. We see our neighbors and friends at a safe distance. I do most of the shopping and have my own mask that I wear. I have my clorox wipes in the car and use those to clean carts at the stores and keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in my car. We practice good hand hygiene- before you eat, after you eat, when you come home, etc. Soap and warm water are the best defense again any virus because it breaks down the exterior of the virus and help kills the virus. We also wipe down all the door handles, counters, light switches every morning, its a good chore for my son.
For those of us who don’t know you: Who do you come home to after work?
My husband Devan, my son Desmond, and our black lab puppy Nittany
Does your son know what you do when you go to work?
Yes. My son is always asking what I do at work. When school was cancelled he asked lots more questions. I was honest in an age appropriate way. He know that all the patients I take care of in the ICU have COVID. I also have taken pictures of myself in my gear to show him all that I have on to keep me safe. He has asked if I am scared. I say “yes” but I am really great at what I do and I know how to keep myself safe so I can keep him safe.
Call to action time! What can we do for you and anyone on the frontlines of this pandemic? Meals, supplies, etc?
There are so many ways to help! If you are willing to donate blood, local donation centers or hospitals can set up appointments. Blood isn’t just for covid patients but other patients such as those with cancer, surgical patients, etc who need and depend on blood transfusions. Its quick about 30 minutes total and you get OREOs at the end! If you are recovering from COVID please seek out local systems doing research regarding antibodies. I am happy to provide more information to someone who would like that information.
For those of us at the front lines meal donations are well appreciated and most helpful. We are still in a critical period and still seeing high numbers of patients. With that we have few breaks and we are often eating lunch at 2 or 3pm. Anything is well received – coffee, bagels, sandwiches, cookies, ice cream bars, etc are great easy to grab meals for us.
Many hospitals systems are accepting donations to help provide lodging for those working in the COVID units at local hotels to help keep their families safe. This could be a great way to help someone.
Some first responders and medical workers also need just a meal sent to their home, uplifting pictures, text messages. I love seeing the messages supporting us when I walk my dog, when I walk into work, or when I drive through town. They really help keep me going. So thank you to everyone!
Please keep isolating and stay safe.
For more information on ways you and your community can help during this crisis read our latest article, “10 Ways to Help During the COVID 19 Quarantine.”