Charge Nurse Describes New Normal Caring for COVID-19 Patients
by TERESA SCHIFFER
As coronavirus deaths rise around the world, Central Florida is rushing to meet the increased demand on the healthcare system.
David Coicou is on the front line of the medical field’s fight against this illness, working as a charge nurse at AdventHealth Orlando caring for coronavirus patients. Coicou was generous enough to take time out of his very busy schedule to talk with us for a few minutes about the reality of dealing with these special patients.
A charge nurse like Coicou is in charge of the unit he works on during his shift, controlling the flow of work and overseeing the care of the unit’s patients. Coicou has been a nurse since 2013 and, like most of his peers, has never seen a situation that compares to the current pandemic.
“This is like nothing I have experienced, or, I think, anybody in the medical field has experienced,” he says.
Dr. Neil Finkler, Chief Medical Officer of Acute Care Services at AdventHealth Orlando, says there isn’t a single physician or team member who has not felt the effects of coronavirus.
One of the most challenging aspects of working with coronavirus patients, according to Coicou, is the slow progression of the disease. An ICU unit like the one he works in typically sees patients who are in an acute state. Generally, they are quickly stabilized and downgraded, and discharged within a few days. That is not the case with coronavirus patients.
“When they get to the ICU,” says Coicou, “they are there for a lot longer than we are used to. It’s a different type of care provided versus short, acute-term care.”
Finkler says the average hospital stay is roughly 11 to 14 days, and patients who are placed on ventilators have been kept on them for as long as three weeks.
During these unprecedented conditions, it is easy and understandable for care providers to become anxious or overwhelmed. While Coicou himself is able to stay calmer than most under even the most stressful situations, he relies on his faith to see him through this crisis, taking things one day or one task at a time. This is, however, uncharted territory for the medical profession, and not everyone has the same grace under pressure that Coicou exhibits. AdventHealth Orlando has invited a chaplain to come in to sit down with the nurses on the unit to provide support and a listening ear.
Christin Ray, nursing director at AdventHealth Orlando, describes the anxiety involved in caring for COVID patients.
“I think that with everything that happens there is a little bit of fear, there’s a little bit of anxiety,” she says. “We’re appreciative of the support, and we’re happy that we’re here and in this place and to be in this position to take care of our community.
Whereas Coicou normally works 12-hour shifts three days a week, his workload has been increased these past few weeks to five or six days per week to deal with the influx of coronavirus patients. It’s a grueling schedule that doesn’t allow for much downtime to spend with family. Coicou and his wife, occupational therapist Jasmine Coicou, have a 4-year-old daughter and a 5-month-old baby. While Jasmine Coicou stays home with the children, David Coicou is working long hours and then spending nights in a separate apartment in order to protect his family from possible infection. When he arrives home after work, Coicou showers and changes clothes before visiting his family at home, wearing a mask at all times and using extra layers of blankets whenever he holds the infant.
Despite the personal hardships caused by close contact with coronavirus patients, Coicou feels the situation is worth the sacrifice.
“It’s more than about me, it’s more than about my family,” he says. “It’s about the bigger picture. It’s about the community and contributing to society. It’s a short-term sacrifice that I don’t mind making.”
Coicou encourages the public to do their part in limiting the spread of the disease, including staying home as much as possible. When it is necessary to leave the house, he emphasizes the need to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Be mindful about touching your face and practice good hygiene, such as washing hands frequently with soap and water.
As for handling the stress that this unusual situation is causing, Coicou has some words of wisdom. “Take this time to focus on you,” he recommends. “Use this time to spend quality time with the people you’re stuck at home with, and try to find the positive in the situation. Every situation, no matter how bad it is, there is always something good, or some things good, and we just overlook them because they are overshadowed by the bigger picture. Find those good things and enjoy those good moments.”
This is a new situation for everyone, and it’s important, especially for healthcare workers, to remain flexible and be able to roll with the punches. There are new developments happening daily – almost hourly – in the medical world. As a society, we need to work together and be patient. “This, too, shall pass,” Coicou reminds us.