Rachel Mercurio, second from left, is a mother of two kids with her wife Danielle. Photo courtesy of Rachel Mercurio
Although she was trained to prepare for difficult scenarios in her capacity as a nurse, Rachel Mercurio admitted that the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic was a particularly unique challenge in her line of work.
“It’s kind of hard when there’s not really an end date in time to know how long things are going to be like this,” said Mercurio. “I mean, the hospital’s taking good measures, where there’s no visitors allowed and staff’s required to wear masks at all times.”
“The patients could have [COVID-19], and also any of our co-workers could,” Mercurio continued. “So it’s just a little hard always having to wear a mask and goggles, and doing the social distancing. We can only have three people in the break room, and you have to be six feet apart. It’s just weird.”
Weird indeed, but nonetheless, Mercurio and the rest of the staff at Regions Hospital in St. Paul are working hard to respond to this pandemic around the clock. As medical professionals and first responders, they’ve adapted to this crisis to not only better serve their patients, but to keep the general public safe.
“Right now, I’m qualified to take care of general care and progressive care patients,” said Mercurio. “So what that generally means is that I’m in charge of three to four patients with various diagnoses.”
Mercurio said that she’s become far more cautious at work and at home, considering that her job regularly puts her at greater risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
“Instead of trading off with someone for lunches, I just stay on the floor and go in the break room, and just keep my same patients so I’m not exposing myself to other patients,” she said. “And then as soon as I get home, I strip and put all my stuff in the washing machine and take a shower before I interact with my spouse and kids. So that’s definitely new.”
Despite living with her wife and two young children, Mercurio—who has worked for Regions for the last five years—discussed the hardships of being a nurse and how the pandemic’s affected her personal life.
“Personally, we’re social distancing, and my family and friends are even more cautious to be around us because I’m a nurse and possibly exposed to COVID, so I always feel kind of isolated,” she said. “It’s hard having two little ones. We have a two-[year-old] and a three-year-old. So it’s hard not to be able to go visit friends and family and entertain them ourselves.”
Luckily, being a nurse means that Rachel’s kids have a better understanding of maintaining proper hygiene during the pandemic.
“We could keep them home for three weeks when everything started,” said Mercurio. “And then my wife’s a lawyer, and was working from home and… it just wasn’t working. So they’ve been at daycare the past couple weeks, and that’s good for everyone. I’m thankful that our daycare is still open.”
Despite these adjustments, Mercurio’s work as a nurse is an invaluable asset to the public, and while she thinks that the general citizenry appreciates the work of healthcare workers in general, the pandemic has only further illuminated just how essential our doctors, nurses, and paramedics are to our society.
“We’re at a lot greater risk in taking greater chances by doing our job and taking care of people and exposing ourselves to it,” said Mercurio. “A lot of people, I think, have a little bit more respect for us because no one else can take care of them, and by taking care of them, we’re exposing ourselves to possibly getting it and getting sick with it.”
Mercurio believes that Regions has been doing a standup job in their overall response to COVID-19, even if that sometimes means making tough decisions.
“We’ve limited visitors for multiple weeks now, which is really hard for patients and really hard for patients’ families to not be there,” she said. “Every day, when we log in, we are basically saying that we are symptom-free and we don’t have any family members at home that have symptoms that could potentially be COVID.”
Regions also requires staff to wear masks and goggles at all times to protect both patients and staffers alike, said Mercurio.
“I feel like right now we have enough PPE equipment,” Mercurio said. “I know that is an issue for a lot of hospitals and institutions. And I know, with COVID-positive patients that are in the ICU especially, the measures that we are taking [include putting] extension tubing on their I.V. so that the I.V. pumps are actually outside the room, [so] that we can adjust the medication so we don’t have to go into the room and expose ourselves more.”
Regions is also doing their due diligence when employees come to the building’s security entrance.
“They’re asking us to actually wear masks into the hospital before we get to the floor and get our medical surgical masks,” she said. “And then for anybody that’s not working that’s coming in for a lab job or something else, they get screened and they get their temperature checked and a mask before they can actually enter.”
Mercurio also expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support for Regions workers by the public, such as the donation of masks, hair caps, and meals.
“Xcel [Energy] was there at Regions, [with] a whole bunch of their employees,” she said. “And then they were clapping for us as we walked in. So that was really nice.”
Mercurio ultimately stressed the importance of social distancing to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“It really is working,” she said. “We are flattening the curve.”
Mercurio lamented the fact that a minority of people regard COVID-19 as some sort of hoax or being overblown.
“I am seeing people with this disease, young and old, every day at work,” said Mercurio. “I just wish people would take it seriously. You can still live your life. You could still go to the grocery store. Thankfully, the weather’s turning around so we can actually be outside. Follow what the government is saying and do the social distancing. It’s going to end eventually. It’s a matter of life and death for some people.”