The Brooklyn hospital where I volunteered provided me with two sets of scrubs and two N95s. Gowns were variably available on our unit, and there was no eye protection. As a colleague of mine,, anesthesia and critical care physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., had suggested, anyone volunteering in this context should bring personal protective equipment (PPE) – That includes gowns, bouffants/scrub caps, eye protection, masks, and scrubs.
The “COVID corner”
Once I arrived in New York, I did not feel particularly safe in my hotel, so I moved to another the next day. Then I had to sort out how to keep the whole room from being contaminated. I created a “COVID corner” right by the door where I kept almost everything that had been outside the door.
Every time I walked in the door, I immediately took off my shoes and left them in that corner. I could not find alcohol wipes, even after looking around in the city, so I relied on time to kill the virus, which I presumed was on everything that came from outside.
Groceries stayed by the door for 48-72 hours if possible. After that, I would move them to the “clean” parts of the room. I wore the same outfit to and from the hospital everyday, putting it on right before I left and taking it off immediately after walking into the room (and then proceeding directly to the shower). Those clothes – “my COVID outfit” – lived in the COVID corner. Anything else I wore, including exercise clothes and underwear, got washed right after I wore it.
At the hospital, I would change into scrubs and leave my COVID outfit in a plastic bag inside my handbag. Note: I fully accepted that my handbag was now a COVID handbag. I kept a pair of clogs in the hospital for daily wear. Without alcohol wipes, my room did not feel clean. But I did start to become at peace with my system, even though it was inferior to the system I use in my own home.
In addition to bringing snacks from home, I gathered some meal items at aduring my first day in New York. These included water, yogurt, a few protein drinks, fruit, and some mini chocolate croissants. It’s a pandemic – chocolate is encouraged, right?
Neither any of the volunteers I knew nor I had access to a kitchen, so this was about the best I could do.
My first week I worked nights and ate sporadically. A couple of days I bought bagel sandwiches on the way back to the hotel in the morning. Other times, I would eat yogurt or a protein bar.
I had trouble sleeping, so I would wake up early and either do yoga in my room or go for a run in a nearby park. Usually I didn’t plan well enough to eat before I went into the hospital, so I would take yogurt, some fruit, and a croissant with me as I headed out. It was hard eating on the run with a mask on my face.
When I switched to working days, I actually ordered proper dinners from local Thai, Mexican, and Indian restaurants. I paid around $20 a meal.
One night I even had dinner with a coworker who was staying at a hotel close to mine – what a luxury! Prior to all this I had been sheltering in place alone for weeks, so in that sense, this experience was a delight. I interacted with other people, in person, every day!