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“Nurses’ courage worth respect.”

Publish Date: April 22, 2020

To perioperative nurses in the US who are working on the COVID-19 frontline, Huamei Deng, RN, knows they have the courage and the clinical knowledge in infection prevention and patient care to protect medical staff and patients.

Deng is perioperative nurse director at Guangdong Provincial Hospital of Chinese Medicine in Guangzhou, China—located 600 miles from Wuhan where the first COVID-19 epicenter quickly expanded.

As the scope of the virus quickly became clear, Deng prepared her team for the worst, looking back to her experiences during the SARS outbreak in 2003, during which time she lost a close nurse colleague who was working on the frontline.

In her experiences over the past three months to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, Deng has witnessed tremendous courage in action among her own nurse colleagues who volunteered without hesitation to respond where needed.

Experiences from the First COVID-19 Epicenter

In Guangzhou, the surge of COVID-19 emerged rapidly. On January 21, just days before the Lunar New Year, Deng’s senior leadership asked her to organize nurses to work in the emergency department and fever clinics at four hospitals within their hospital system to respond to first cases of suspected COVID-19 coming in. The next day they participated in training to discuss PPE options for the response and learned that N95 masks were being reserved for providers caring for highly suspicious or confirmed COVID-19 cases.

By January 23, the situation escalated significantly, and a building used for liver disease was transformed into an isolation center for COVID-19 patients. Four perioperative nurses from Deng’s department were selected to work in the isolation hospital, where they stayed for 32 days to treat patients.

Back at the fever clinics, Deng led perioperative nurses and other health care professionals in caring for incoming patients, including those suspected to have COVID-19.

PPE was in limited supply, so they got creative, fashioning plastic covering for the C-arm X-Ray machine to cover their heads. They also used non-woven fabric for packing equipment to sew protective headgear and masks and used steel wire and rubber hoses as the frame for the head cover, which were used in the ER and other direct patient care settings.

Nurses rotated in multiple day shifts in the fever clinics to reduce the risk of transmission beyond the hospital. Deng set up makeshift sleeping quarters in unused operating rooms. 

From the end of January through March, Deng and her healthcare colleagues throughout China maintained this pace. On March 31, Deng’s periop nurses working in Wuhan were able to return home and were honored in a celebration to recognize their service.

On April 4, Deng and her fellow nurses took time to pay tribute to the victims of COVID-19 during a day of national mourning.

While the curve of new COVID-19 cases has flattened in China, cases still emerge. Restaurants and other public places are opening, but schools remain closed and online-only learning continues. People still wear masks in public, get a temperature read before entering public places and keep a safe distance, which she says may need to be maintained for the next three months. Individuals returning from other provinces or abroad must quarantine in isolation for 14 days and take two virus nucleic acid tests to confirm no infection from the virus.

Elective surgeries have resumed to about 50% at Deng’s hospital, and every patient is tested for COVID-19 before they can be admitted to the hospital. There is still a strict focus on PPE and personal protection. She and her nurse colleagues continue to offer support for COVID-19 patients where needed. “Our perioperative nurses demonstrated their ability to work beyond the OR and showed how successfully we collaborate with doctors and nurses to care for patients fighting this virus.”

Related Resources

The AORN Journal has assembled a COVID-19 Resources page of articles to support the safety of healthcare workers and patients.