Chicago Nurse Shares Warning as Challenges Arise During Coronavirus Pandemic

“Right now, we are not [like New York]… but if people don’t understand the gravity of what’s happening, it’s going to get there really fast here,” she said

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An emergency room nurse at John H. Stroger Hospital of Cook County is warning residents as she shares the challenges she and other medical professionals in the area are facing with the number of coronavirus cases still going up in Illinois.

Sheena Brunswick, 46, has been working as an emergency room nurse at Stroger Hospital for at least five years. But she says working during these unprecedented times brings a whole new set of challenges.

“This whole pandemic gives you a different perspective as to my role as a nurse,” Brunswick said. "It’s pretty exhausting and kind of scary because even though you are protected... you have your shield, your gown... you wonder, could it be somewhere on me? Could I bring it home?"

Last week, Brunswick said she worked a shift in the area designated for coronavirus patients at Stroger Hospital. She then went five days without seeing her husband and her 3-year-old daughter.

“It was super hard. That kid is my life... even this morning when I saw her I started crying. I was so happy to see her in front of me,” said Brunswick.

Those emotions motivated her to post photos on Facebook wearing her protective gear. It was her way of sharing the toll the coronavirus is taking on medical professionals and their families.

Like many other health care workers across the country, Brunswick said she guards her protective gear like gold, while following CDC guidelines.

“We are basically hanging on to what we have to conserve it. When we get the N95 masks, we have to use it, unless it it soiled,” Brunswick said.

But she says she doesn’t want the protective gear shortage to be the focus of her story. She wants people to listen to the warnings from health officials and stay home.

"People are having such a hard time with staying home and it's making people in our ER crazy. We would love to be home... but we can’t. We’ve got a job to do,” Brunswick said.

A message she says is especially important after seeing images published by the New York Times inside an ER in a New York Hospital. Conditions she hopes, don’t replicate in Chicago.

“Right now, we are not there… but if people don’t understand the gravity of what’s happening, it’s going to get there really fast here,” Brunswick said.

Cook County Health provided the following statement via email from Dr. Robert Feldman, emergency physician and head of emergency preparedness at Cook County Health:

“I have been through our emergency room every day. I have seen our staff – physicians, nurses, PAs, techs, clerks – everyone working together to do what is the essence of County emergency medicine – taking care of our patients. Throughout this crisis, we have prioritized the health and safety of our healthcare workers and our patients.  This is a new disease and understand that there is anxiety among our frontline staff.  We have been working since January to prepare, train and provide the tools needed to care for patients while protecting our staff. 

I have cared for several patients with COVID-19 in our ER. I wear the same PPE as the rest of the team. We look forward to the day when an ample supply of PPE is again available to every hospital.  But until the supply chain can catch up again, like other hospitals across the country and the world and as the CDC has recommended, we have instituted tighter controls to ensure that when a suspect or confirmed case of COVID-19 presents, supplies are available to protect our staff.

Hospital leaders across the country are making difficult decisions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and protect their workers. We are no different. As one of the largest public healthcare systems in this country, I am incredibly proud of our strong response to this ongoing, worldwide crisis.”

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