By Evangeline Cafe
Northwest Asian Weekly
Most heroes of the pandemic aren’t behind a podium. They’re in battle behind the scenes—their frustrations and anxieties masked by a uniform. Facing shortages of equipment, supplies, and staff, health care workers are feeling the weight of the outbreak on their shoulders.
“Everyone on the front lines are burnt out in a magnitude of ways,” said emergency room technician Missy Cruz. “Some of the staff are working 14- and even 16-hour days to try and help combat this virus,” she said.
Cruz, 32, is a survivor. She is also among a legion of health care workers trying to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2. The virus causes COVID-19, an acute respiratory disease that has led to tens of thousands of deaths globally and more than 120 deaths in Washington state—numbers that are only expected to climb.
Although the majority of those infected recover, Cruz understands the toll that the disease can take on even a young, healthy individual.
“I was utterly miserable. The fevers and body aches were the worst for me,” she said. Cruz experienced high fevers, body aches, headaches, deep chest coughs, and shortness of breath. Her fevers ranged between 101.5 and 103.7 degrees Fahrenheit for eight straight days.
“I could not regulate my fever. When I tried to take medication away, my fever would shoot back up,” she said.
An X-ray came back negative for pneumonia and Cruz was able to self-isolate for two weeks at home.
It is believed that Cruz contracted the virus from a patient on Feb. 21, eight days before Public Health – Seattle & King County announced the first known death in the United States of an individual with COVID-19, although testing later indicated that two individuals had already died on Feb. 26. Cruz believes that she became infected after helping a patient who came to the E.R. for symptoms unrelated to the disease.
“The day I contracted COVID-19 was like any other day for us in the E.R.; it was busy. COVID-19 was not classified as a pandemic yet and was still in its infancy here in the U.S.,” she said. “This patient did not have any recent travels outside of the country and denied being in contact with any individual that could have been positive.
“Four days after my contact with the patient, I started to feel sick initially with some mild symptoms. On the first day, I had a mild cough that went away within a day. Throughout the week, I started to feel headaches and body aches,” said Cruz. “It was at the end of that week I was informed that I was in contact with a patient who tested positive for the virus. The following day, I was tested by the Centers for Disease and Control and within 24 hours, I was informed that I, too, tested positive for COVID-19.”
Health care workers and the government are begging the public to do their part in helping flatten the curve of the pandemic.
On Mar. 23, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a statewide “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. The order requires Washingtonians to stay home except to pursue essential activities. The order bans social, spiritual, and recreational gatherings, and closes all businesses except for those deemed essential.
“The less time we spend in public, the more lives we will save,” Inslee said in a televised announcement.
“Social distancing is so important right now because this virus is easily transmittable from person to person,” said Cruz. “If people continue to abuse social distancing, the frontline health care workers will never be given a chance to catch up with this virus. We will continue to overload the hospitals and resources we have left to combat this pandemic. So please, if you do not need to leave your house, just stay home,” she pleaded.
“The scariest part is some people are infected without even knowing it because some can carry the virus without showing any symptoms. Those are the people who are a threat to our elderly and immunocompromised population. There is still a lot unknown about COVID-19, so the only way to control the spread is to keep people home as much as possible,” she said.
Cruz said that when she returned to the E.R. after completing self-isolation, the hospital already looked so different.
“It was like walking back into a war zone. We are constantly battling staffing and supply shortages, like masks,” she said. “Day in and day out, we come back to work, and we just never know if it will ever slow down, or if our supplies will be enough. It is a tremendously scary time for us in health care right now.”
Cruz hopes that people of all ages will take the disease seriously.
“People who are not concerned about contracting COVID-19 because they are young and feel this is just like the flu—it is true that the chances of you recovering from the virus is good, but it is not just about you. It is about the many others who cannot fight this virus off. You can become the carrier that can infect a lot of people. This is why people are dying at a rapid rate.”
“COVID-19 is no joke,” stressed Cruz. “It will only continue to spread if we do not follow the proper measures to contain it.”
“We have to help each other by supporting each other,” she said.
Evangeline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.