HCMC nurse: ‘My first day back at work after recovering from COVID was exhausting’

Jennifer Vongroven

The Southwest Journal is documenting the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. As the outbreak evolves, we will be checking in with the participants regularly. Read all of the stories here.

All interviews are conducted over the phone, and conversations are edited for length and clarity.

Jennifer Vongroven, bedside nurse, HCMC

My first day back at work after recovering from COVID was exhausting. 

I was not used to having that much movement in my body even though I’d set an exercise regimen for myself. And the COVID fog is real; after being off for a few weeks, my brain is just not at the level it was beforehand. I will have the cough for a long time because I do have asthma and it takes me a long time to get rid of the cough. I’m constantly watching what’s going on with my body right now, but I am not symptomatic anymore.

We don’t know what the long-term effects of COVID are. Some people have clotting issues, some have inflammation issues, others have GI problems or general fatigue. Some patients who are very sick have long-lasting cognitive issues. And with my eye pain, does that mean I might have issues with my eyes in the future? Who knows? We have no idea. But I feel relieved that I have vanquished the disease.

I was really just focusing on my patients during my first shift back, but COVID has increased. There are more employees out with the disease. There are more patients at the hospital with the disease. We know it’s getting worse again. It’s also still trauma season, so our ICUs are partially designated for trauma victims. 

I have been watching my coworkers’ Facebook posts and there’s a lot of “I’m tired,” “Here we go again” and “Round two” going on. We were scared the first time because we didn’t know. We’re scared this time because we do know. 

We’re armed with a little more knowledge about the disease process — we know when and how often to prone patients on their bellies to increase their lung capacity. But with that knowledge base comes the fear of what else we know — it’s going to get harder and it’s going to get worse and people are going to get sicker again. 

Today’s news that bars, restaurants and gyms are closing again makes me feel sad. If we’d stayed home the first time, if we’d masked up, if we’d washed our hands, if we’d taken the proper precautions, this would have been a much smaller issue. I think it’s good that we’re closing down again, though — let’s face it — this sucks. We would like to get back to real life, but we have to face the facts that that is not an option right now. We can accept that and move forward, or we’ll need to keep closing things. 

It’s not our politicians who are doing this. The disease process demands it. The only people who have control of the disease process are you. Your decisions and everything you do every day are affecting restaurants, entertainment venues and small businesses closing. This is going to keep happening until people can follow the science.


VOICES FROM THE PANDEMIC

 You can read all of the stories here.