Year of the Nurse | Cassandra Alexander

Summary of: Year of the Nurse: A 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic Memoir
By: Cassandra Alexander


Prepare to immerse yourself in the gripping memoir of a front-line ICU nurse, Cassandra Alexander, in the battle against COVID-19 during the year 2020. Witness the harsh realities of managing scarce protective gear, the taxing experience of nursing intubated and paralyzed patients, the controversial mask-wearing debate, and the toll the pandemic has taken on mental health, especially among health care workers. Combining a range of themes, from the struggles with family who ignore scientific facts to the systematic inequality, this engaging summary will leave you with a deepened understanding of the challenges faced by those on the front lines of this ongoing crisis.

ICU Nurse Discovers Proning to be Remedy for COVID Patients

Cassandra Alexander, an ICU nurse, discovered the technique of “proning” COVID patients while watching a video of Italian nurses. Placing patients on their stomachs allows access to a greater lung surface area to aid breathing. Proning an intubated patient is dangerous, but it is done when necessary. Patients require constant checking and can become vulnerable to sores unless attended to regularly.

Nurses Battling COVID-19

When COVID-19 first hit, hospitals across the US underestimated the severity of the situation. In a “major New York hospital”, close to a million masks were required in a week. Acute shortages soon followed, with many hospitals even recommending nurses use bandanas or scarves as an alternative to masks. By March 18, 2020, the mask crisis had worsened with the CDC’s suggestion to ration masks. This led to nurses having to reuse their isolation gear and source their PPE themselves. Many were forced to rely on rationing and donations from others to protect themselves.

The Vital Role Of Ventilators in COVID Treatment

Lungs are vital organs that transfer oxygen into the blood. In COVID cases where the lungs are damaged, a breathing tube connected to a ventilator is inserted. Ventilators control the volume and percentage of oxygen, breaths taken, and force of oxygen inhaled. In severe cases, nurses may paralyze and prone patients, allowing the ventilator to take over completely. The settings are tailored to each patient, and the procedure requires sedation. Although daunting, ventilators play a crucial role in the recovery of COVID patients with damaged lungs.

The Controversial Mask-Wearing Debate

Despite White House guidance, many states started reopening without mask mandates when cases were not declining. The lack of restrictions caused people to gather without masks, leading to an increase in COVID cases. However, a hair salon with two COVID-positive hairdressers who wore masks did not pass the virus on to their clients. In contrast, a family gathering for Thanksgiving led to multiple hospitalizations and one death. The debate continues, with some advocating for masks as a preventive measure and others opposing them.

COVID-19 and Economic Tradeoffs

A 2020 article by the American Association for the Advancement of Science predicted that COVID-19 would persist into 2022 without a vaccine. The article argued that the most effective way to control the pandemic was to provide people with enough money to stay home. However, some states reopened because lockdowns were perceived as harmful to the economy. Reopening Disney World and schools created dangerous situations for workers and teachers. By contrast, South Korea shut everything down when cases rose above 50. The article concludes that the US needs to prioritize public health and support people financially to curb the pandemic.

Struggling with COVID Denial

Despite her efforts to educate her Trump-supporting family on COVID, Julia Alexander still saw her mother fall ill with the virus. Alexander’s parents and brother preferred to believe the Trump administration over scientific facts, leading them to ignore Alexander’s warnings. As a dedicated healthcare professional, she found it frustrating that some people’s reckless attitudes were prolonging the pandemic. Alexander was particularly incensed with religious leaders who opposed lockdowns and encouraged in-person church services. For Alexander, this mentality let individuals avoid taking responsibility for their actions. Despite her mother’s COVID-19 infection, Alexander remains hopeful that her family can come around to acknowledging the science behind the virus.

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