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End of Shift: Nurse Quarantined in China

Susanne Danis, RN, and son Michael

BEIJING — At 12:30 a.m., the loud chatter from the nursing station echoes off the hospital walls. Ordinarily, as a nurse for more than 25 years, I’d have no problem speaking up and reminding these noisy caregivers to lower their voices. Tonight, that’s not an option. I’m locked inside an isolation room with my teenage son, and I don’t speak Chinese.

Tonight I’m not the nurse practitioner, diabetic specialist, and nursing professor — I’m just a chaperone on my son’s high school tour and the mother of a 16-year-old student who registered a temperature reading of 37.7 C (99.8 F) at the Beijing airport. The first day of our much-anticipated 12-day trip to China was to be spent exploring this history-laden city. Instead, Michael and I sit quarantined and staring at the nurse’s station through thick double-layered glass.

I appreciate the need to identify potentially infected individuals — after all, just hours before our plane landed, the World Health Organization declared the highest level of a worldwide H1N1 flu alert. What I question is the over-hyped and humanly insensitive process we endured.

Two vans of armed guards escorted our ambulance out of the airport en route to Beijing Ditan Hospital Infectious Disease ward.

In triage, Michael’s temperature was 37 C (98.6 F) and he was asymptomatic. Even though I had no fever and also was asymptomatic, I was admitted.

Three nurses were required to escort us on separate legs around the outside of the hospital to the entrance for the infectious disease ward. We were locked in a two-bed room, and a team of nurses descended on us.

There was no physical assessment — no one touched us except to obtain blood pressure (with an automatic cuff), to draw blood, and to culture our throats. Nobody listened to our lungs. There were no chest X-rays either.

We were offered a late lunch, which was our only meal until the next morning. The banana was the only item we deemed edible.

Nevermind the 24/7 cameras and observation, imagine having to ask for toilet paper and water through a small isolation passage window.

Our “charts” were 5-by-7-inch slips of paper that contained brief medical and demographic information taped inside the isolation passage window. From what I could see through the window, there were at least 20 other isolation rooms off the central nursing station. Some had crying and coughing children and elders and some had other foreign travelers. I hoped the isolation rooms were true “negative pressure” isolation rooms with separate ventilation

As a nursing instructor, I would have failed the caregivers on their techniques as I noticed they did not remove gear or change masks as they moved about in the unit and entered the nursing station. They were even answering the phone with their patient care area masks and gloves on.

We were separated from our checked luggage but had our carry-on with some of our much-needed items. Being diabetic and hypertensive, I was on my own to monitor and medicate myself.

Each healthcare professional involved in our hospital admission attempted to make us comfortable — as much as they could while covered in haz-mat gear with eyes peering through goggles. The lack of communication was irritating, though.

Morning finally came and another set of cultures, but still no news. Breakfast and lunch came and went. Shortly thereafter, the window opened again and slammed shut. Michael went to investigate the newest delivery, then turned and screamed, “We’re free!” as he read our release papers that declared us without H1N1.

The first nurse we encountered who was devoid of isolation gear spent nearly 20 minutes on the street in front of the hospital arranging for a taxi — with the first six drivers refusing to transport us. Cab seven agreed, we jumped in and we rejoined our group after a 24-hour detour few have taken — or would ever want to have to.

Susanne Danis, MSN, ARNP-C, CDE, CRRN, of Plantation Medical Clinic and the University of Phoenix is a contributor to Gannett Healthcare Group.

By | 2020-04-15T14:49:39-04:00 September 21st, 2009|Categories: Philadelphia/Tri-State, Regional|0 Comments

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