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HCMC nurse: ‘I’m now able to hug with abandon’

February 10, 2021

This community reporting project documents the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. All interviews are conducted over the phone, and conversations are edited for length and clarity.

Jennifer Vongroven, bedside nurse, HCMC

COVID is not as prevalent at the hospital as it was previously. At my last check, we still had COVID patients at HCMC but none in the ICU. It’s become commonplace for me to have days without seeing a COVID patient, which is kind of nice. 

They’ve loosened up the visitor policy for patients a little more. COVID-positive patients still cannot have visitors, put people without COVID can now have a different visitor every single day. Especially for really sick patients and their families, who need a lot of support, this has been wonderful — I can’t say enough about it! 

We’re still using N95s, face shields and gloves when entering a room of anyone on high-flow oxygen. Sometimes people become COVID positive while they’re in the hospital, whether it’s from a visiting family member who didn’t know they had it or whatever other reason. 

I am happily, happily vaccinated now. I can’t wait until it becomes mainstream. The first shot was worse than the second for me, which I hear is common for people who still have active antibodies from the COVID infection. After the second vaccine, I felt nothing. I was great. 

When I’m in public, I’m still following all the rules as if I weren’t vaccinated, but I have now booked an actual vacation — not just a weekend off but an actual vacation — to Colorado. I like to ski and I have friends who live out there. It’s nice to be able to move about the country knowing I’m not going to be sick and am less likely to spread the disease. 

I feel much safer being around my parents. Instead of planning a hug two weeks ahead of time with the proper precautions or giving up hugging entirely, I’m now able to hug with abandon. (Of course, I still need to have clean clothes and I avoid places beforehand where I might pick up a lot of germs.)

The news we’re hearing about new strains is a little scary. The new variants have been shown to be a sturdier virus. I feel like the worst of the disease is behind us, but if these variants become prevalent, then we’ve got a whole new ballgame. 

It’s another good reason to get vaccinated as soon as you can, because the more we can squelch this disease, the less it’s going to have the chance to continue to mutate. We need to mask up, wash our hands and get vaccinated. We don’t want to play catch up with a deadly disease; we want to be in front of it.

I just had a health checkup today. I’m doing good, but I still have some shortness of breath leftover from when I had COVID and the carbon dioxide levels in my blood are a little higher than normal. I still have inflammation and mucus in my lungs. I still have upper GI issues with decreased appetite and increased nausea. And I’m still coughing. This month is better than last month, and I’m hopeful it will continue to keep going that way. 

In the last months, as things have started to calm down at the hospital, I’ve noticed that I’m having triggers. Hearing a helicopter will send my heart racing. Hearing the news with the impeachment trial and recalling what happened on Jan. 6 has been triggering. We’ve all been under a lot of stress. From law enforcement to sanitation workers, we’ve been through it as humanity. We’re all a little tender right now. I think that’s probably escalated things within society, on social media and within families. We’re all going through that decompression phase right now, and some people get the bends. 

We had so much support from the community at the beginning of the pandemic — people were helping in any way they could and it was amazing and lovely — but it seems like now that we’ve been through it and there’s no end in sight, that support has sort of evaporated. I don’t mean to make it sound like I’m complaining, but we’re burned out. 

Our chief of nursing has been organizing “warm lines” and other confidential types of support, which is great. For people used to caregiving, it’s hard to consider the fact that they might need care themselves. 

It’s tough on our mental health not having face-to-face connections. I’ve also read that about 20% of people with just mild to moderate COVID symptoms have had some sort of psychological effects afterward, whether it’s depression, anxiety or even dementia. My friend’s daughter dealt with dementia for several months after COVID but is back to where she normally was. If you had (or may have had) COVID and if life seems harder right now, there may be a physical reason for that.   

For me, I’m also dealing with the effects of the riots in the city this summer. At the time, I was thinking, “Is this city going to burn? Will there be gunshots through the window?” I was like “I’m going to get through today,” but now, afterward, I realize that it was a lot. It was an intense amount of stress I was not unpacking at all. You can’t do that while you’re in survival mode. Getting to the point where you can live instead of just survive, is where you start to unpack it all.

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