Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to speak with a couple of operating room (OR) RNs about their different experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. As many of you know, in and around February/March most elective surgeries across the country were cancelled or postponed in order to conserve resources for an expected spike in ED and ICU censuses. OR nurses, being super specialized in their field, cannot easily (without extra credentialing) float to other sections of a hospital and as such, many were left without work, forced to file for unemployment, had to seek work outside the healthcare realm or found themselves hustling to find the hours needed to keep those paychecks coming.
This week we’d like to give you an inside view into the life of one OR nurse, Hayley Long, who has given us her first-hand experience with what happened, how she got through it, and where she is today.
Meet Hayley Long, RN
Hi there. My name is Hayley Long, an OR Nurse with over two years of experience, living in Republic Missouri, with my long-term boyfriend. We’re currently in the middle of buying our first home – but can you say, “bad timing”?
This is my COVID-19 story.
So, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve been an OR nurse for a little over 2 years and it’s pretty much the best job in the world. I have a solid team that I work with and I really enjoy the fact that we get to concentrate on just one patient at a time. It’s kind of what drew me to the OR in the first place. I usually work three, 12-hour shifts a week. It’s a pretty fantastic schedule because you get to enjoy multiple days off every week. Well, that fantastic schedule turned into a nightmare in a matter of days.
One day a couple of months ago all OR nurses were told “we’re going to cut down on surgeries and we will have to reduce everyone’s hours”. When we panicked, we were given one of three options. (1) We could not work for the entire month of April, LOL. (2) We could use our earned time off (ETO) to make up for the reduction in hours, or (3) we could work a COVID-19 triage area that the hospital was opening up. Since I had hardly any ETO and three weddings to attend this summer, I decided to volunteer for the COVID triage position. We were told that those taking the triage position would be taken off the OR schedule entirely (no call, no nothing), but we’d be guaranteed 40 hours a week. I thought I had made the smartest decision ever – I wouldn’t have to use up what little ETO I had and instead of trying to make a reduced income work – I’d have a guaranteed 40 hours a week!
Not the best decision ever.
Turns out – not the best decision ever. Three days later, at exactly 4:51pm we were told the census for the triage unit wasn’t what they had expected, and they were shutting us down. Effective at 5:00pm that day.
Immediately after the supervisor lady gave us the bad news, I remember looking at that clock to see how much time I had left to work if I was being laid off at 5:00pm that day, and it said: 4:51pm. In like this surreal daze I turned to the other nurse who was sitting there with me and was like “what the heck?” and she was like “I don’t know. I thought I was in a dream that whole time, like, I didn’t even know what to say, I don’t even know if this is real.”
I of course immediately contacted my supervisor for more information, but she didn’t really have anything additional to add other than: what the heck? Apparently, this was news to her too. She did, however, start the process for finding me and a couple other members of my OR team some extra work being PPE observers (a job recommended by the CDC to watch how PPE is being put on and taken off to prevent cross contamination).
I was grateful for the work, but it was a tough assignment as I had gotten assigned to overnights. You’d think what the heck could be so different between working 11am-11pm and 11pm to 7am– it’s just a few hours. But WOW, it changes your whole world. Just so you know.
So, I did the PPE gig and found another overnight shift working COVID cases in the ER to get my hours up to where I needed them to be. Let me just say – the ER is a totally different world than the OR. Mad respect for you ER nurses out there.
All of what I just described happened in a matter of weeks. My scheduled changed like 5 times, where I was working changed like 2 or 3 times it was simply: chaotic.
Getting back to "normal"
Just a few days ago I got informed that I’d be starting my normal hours in the OR again and things seem to be evening out a little. I’m not exactly up to full time just yet but I am making up my hours with the PPE position and taking other people’s call that they don’t want. Right now, the OR I’m working in is playing catch up with more cases per day then pre-COVID, so we have more ORs open and they’re running on extended schedules.
Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t just ease up a little and accept a few less hours a week and part of that answer is because I’m young and need the income and the other part is that I’m in the middle of buying my first home with my boyfriend. Because we’re in the middle of financing, I can’t exactly file for unemployment because we need my income to qualify for the mortgage.
Thoughts one what just happened.
In regard to how I feel about how things went down? With my direct supervisors I do feel that they did the best they could with the information they’d been given. But I also feel like our direct supervisors weren’t kept up to date as much as they could have been. Like in terms of my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss – I don’t feel like the train of communication was great. I definitely felt like we were the last to know. Like, did I literally get a 9-minute notice that I was being laid off? And even my direct supervisors didn’t know what was going on? Someone in that pipeline knew what was up – but no one told us. And while my supervisor handled it really well (by helping me and others to find work) – that chain of communication was horrible. No warning. No compensation for volunteering for the COVID assignment. No float pay. No thank you. No nothing. It was all a bit frustrating if I’m being honest.
Sometimes nurses just want to be given the respect and the trust that we will understand “I don’t know what’s going on” or “this is new, things are changing every day” or “this is what we’re doing today, might change tomorrow”. We all totally get that this is new, and uncharted territory– but floor staff need to be IN the know, and not the LAST to know.
What's the future look like for OR nurses?
As for the future…..?
I think yes and no things will get back to normal. Some things will change like no longer will family be allowed to hang around to wait for patients to come out of surgery. They’ll either wait in their car, or outside, or simply go home until the surgery is complete. And I think this will be our new “normal.”
I also don’t think they’ll ever really be able to shut down the OR again. In the beginning they were saying that we’d be cancelling a minimum of 60-70 surgeries a day. Given that it’s been 30 days of this, we’ve got a lot of cases to catch up on.
Honestly? It’s pretty hard to say with any sense of accuracy what the future holds because it still feels like things are changing every single day (sometimes multiple times a day) but, what I’m being told is that my hospital is planning on everything going back to normal, back to regular hours, and that all of our surgery centers will be reopened within 2 to 3 weeks.
Advice for OR Nurses
What I’d like to say to all you nurses out there….
The only advice I really have right now is that if you’re willing to be flexible, you’ll have a better chance of picking up those extra hours. It’s kind of what saved me. Or, you know, never ever take vacation again. LOL
If you're thinking about travel nursing or have questions about how to get started, contact us today!