- Sadie Treleven is a 26-year-old nurse who works at Harlem Hospital in New York City. As an ICU nurse, she cares for the sickest coronavirus patients.
- Treleven’s shifts are 12 or more hours and her unit now exclusively treats those with COVID-19. Many are on ventilators, and nearly one person dies daily.
- Treleven said it’s near-impossible to escape her work even after she clocks out because she has dreams about her coworkers and patients.
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At 8 PM, soon after the sun begins to set in New York City, Sadie Treleven mounts a ride-share bike and begins her trip from Harlem Hospital in upper Manhattan, where she works as an ICU nurse, back to Brooklyn where she lives.
The ride, which Treleven takes after her 12-hour shift, is a new facet of her daily routine since the coronavirus pandemic began.
“I started doing the bike thing because it ended up being almost the same amount of time to bike home as it was to take the train,” Treleven, a 26-year-old Washington native, told Insider. “It’s partially too because the fresh air is nice and just to avoid the trains whenever possible.”
Normally, Treleven would wake up at 5:30 AM and take the subway an hour and a half to get to the hospital for her 7 AM shift. But the coronavirus pandemic has made Treleven more aware of her surroundings and the potential to spread the virus outside of the hospital.
Fortunately, about a week into her newfound bike routine, Treleven was accepted into a program at the Four Seasons hotel across from her hospital. Now, she temporarily lives there with other healthcare workers on the front lines who have dedicated their time to caring for patients with COVID-19.
It’s a small treat for Treleven and her colleagues who have experienced an unspeakable amount of trauma in just a few weeks.
“I think, in the last month or so, I’ve seen more deaths because of coronavirus than I’ve seen in the last year in the ICU,” Treleven said.
She became a nurse to be close to patients and their families. Now, she has to limit contact.
Treleven has worked at Harlem Hospital since April 2019 – her first job out of nursing school.
She wanted to be a nurse, in part, for the emotional support aspect. So much of the job is to do with caring, consoling, nurturing the patient, and their families.
“I really enjoy it. It’s one of my favourite things that I get to do for my patients, to usually be that support system for them. Providing that emotional support, usually I’m used to being able to do it more so in person,” Treleven said.
That’s not possible anymore.
“I think that’s been the hardest thing for me, having to support families when they are finding out [over the phone] that their loved one is likely going to pass away.”
ICU nurses have more patients, more process, and less time to do everything
In the past month since New York City became the country’s coronavirus hotspot, all of the ICU hospital beds have become filled with COVID-19 patients, Treleven said. She and the seven other ICU nurses she works with would typically have one or two patients per shift. Now they have at least two if not three, the majority of whom are intubated, Treleven said.
Treleven said she typically checks on her patients every hour or two, but has had to limit those check-ins to reduce the possibility of getting sick herself. “Now, with bundling care, I’m doing my morning medications, my [patient’s body] assessment, and drawing labs all at the same time as much as possible,” she said.
Harlem Hospital doctors and nurses have also had to implement new safety policies when checking on patients, and do this as a way to protect themselves and others staying in the ICU.
She enters patients’ rooms wearing head-to-toe protective gear, including a suit, goggles, gloves, and a face mask. It’s one-use only to prevent cross-contamination, but the process of putting the gear on and taking it off over and over again has become tiring – another strain added to the day.
Trevelen has vivid dreams filled with the patients she didn’t have time to grieve: ‘Sometimes I feel like this isn’t real’
But those little irritants are manageable. The part of Treleven’s work she can’t become accustomed to is watching so many of her patients die.
“It’s so hard to really describe because it’s such a surreal thing that we’re going through. And I think reality is hitting, but also sometimes I feel like this isn’t real,” she said.
“I think one of the hardest parts is there really isn’t time to grieve for these patients. I think it’s going to be something that, once we actually get a break to breathe and really start to process all of this, I think it’s going to be a hard thing.”
Treleven’s day usually ends around 8 or 9 PM when she clocks out, changes out of her scrubs and back into her street clothes, and walks back to the Four Seasons.
Before, she had the company of a roommate to take her mind off of work after hours, but now in her own hotel room, Treleven is alone with her own thoughts and memories of the day’s work.
She’ll FaceTime her friends and family, watch Netflix, and exercise in her room to take care of her mental health, but even when she goes to sleep, coronavirus is part of her life.
“It’s constant. I mean honestly, at this point I feel like I’m dreaming about COVID-19,” Treleven said.
“I can wake up in the morning and it doesn’t feel like I escaped it, you know what I mean? Even my dreams are related to our patients or my coworkers to some capacity. It’s been hard for me is to get any kind of reprieve.”