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Coping with COVID | Travel NICU Nurse Julie Jones - Atlas All Access 119

What's it like to be a nurse during a pandemic?

Learn from our travel nurses who have had a front-row seat to the changing impact of the coronavirus on hospital life for healthcare workers.

Whether you are a permanent staff nurse, an active travel nurse, or someone looking to take that first travel contract -- here's what it is like to be a travel nurse during the COVID-19 age.

Things have been rough, and we have said many times this is a #podcast where we will tackle any topic for you. This is the reality of being a nurse during the coronavirus pandemic.

BUT-- there is a ray of light in the tunnel. We are seeing things improve, new procedures and operations are being scheduled for the summer, and jobs are opening back up.

Be careful, be smart, and be safe out there. And take some advice to heart from nurses and fellow healthcare professionals who have been there.

Rich Smith: If someone asks you like, "How are you?" And you're like, "Oh, I'm fine."

Julie Jones: That's exactly what we all say.

Rich Smith: Right?

Julie Jones: Julie Jones, NICU nurse. I've been a nurse for 37 years. I've been an Atlas traveler, it'll be five years in November.

Rich Smith: Catch me up. I guess I just wanted, as we talk through this and we had a couple of our meetings, I wanted to understand maybe from a few of our long time regulars where you are and what you're doing and how's your head?

Julie Jones: Well, okay. I'm home. Missy called me last Wednesday to tell me that my contract was canceled as of last Saturday. I messaged to the manager in charge of travelers. I said, "Are you sure you're going to need me this weekend?" And she goes, "Oh yes. We'll need you." So I'm like, "Okay, fine." So I packed up some stuff. Because I had been here like 10 months in St. Louis. So I packed up a carload, brought it home, went back, worked Thursday night. Friday, they called me off in four hour blocks. So I said to Missy, I said, "So I'm not willing to do that again. So is it okay if when they call me off tomorrow night, I just say, no, I'm done?" She checked with Nick and Nick said, "Yeah, that's fine." So when they called me, I said, "I'm done. I'm not going to be called off in four hour blocks to not work at all. I'm going home." I've been home since about 1:30 Sunday morning.

Rich Smith: When you said that, what was their response?

Julie Jones: She said, "Okay, I'll write it down." Well then as I'm driving home about 9:30, the night charge calls me laughing and saying, "Oh, I just wanted to tell you you're not coming in. But I really just called to tell you goodbye." They kind of considered me theirs, like that charge and several other people had said, "You know, you could just be core staff here." And I'm like, "I don't really want to move to St. Louis. So not a full time, permanent gig." Although it's a good gig, but I don't know.

Rich Smith: Which hospital? Which one were you at again? I guess I don't remember

Julie Jones: St. Louis Children's.

Rich Smith: Okay.

Julie Jones: It's why we survived so long. It's 130 bed NICU. Our numbers were still up, but you could see the writing on the wall because PICU and heart center were not really working. They were at less than 50% of their capacity. There were a lot of nurses not getting their hours. Then we saw the PICU travelers all get canceled and then the heart center got canceled. We're like, it is just a matter of time and they canceled all but 11 of us.

Rich Smith: Wow.

Julie Jones: Yeah.

Rich Smith: Well, and that's not an uncommon story. I mean, we've seen that a lot lately.

Julie Jones: Right.

Rich Smith: This is just my personal opinion because I lived through 2008 and I lived through cancellations like this and no jobs and everything else, but they can't survive without you.

Julie Jones: At some point.

Rich Smith: Right. At some point it's going to come back. It has to come back. It's not like all of a sudden babies got healthier and I got healthier and you got healthier. Right. There's such a cycle and we are the down part of that cycle right now.

Julie Jones: Yeah. Yeah. I think we're hitting bottom.

Rich Smith: I hope so. It seems like it.

Julie Jones: I mean, I don't know what's going to happen with everybody opening back up.

Rich Smith: Well, I think I know what's going to happen. I think people are going to get sick.

Julie Jones: Yeah. I think they are too, but I don't know how that will affect me as my role in pediatrics because it's the adult nurses who will probably be in high demand. Although by fall, flu season starts up and then we'll have a combination of those two I think. Then everybody will be sick.

Rich Smith: I think there's an undeniable truth here that if you go back to the beginning of the quarantine, there's a definite nine month clock that started right there that is going to follow us into the first of next year. I don't think there'll be a coincidence between some sort of baby boom into fall and winter that coincides with the beginning of the quarantine back February, March.

Julie Jones: Right, right, right. Yeah. It's all coming. We're all going to eventually be needed, but it's just that lag time.

Rich Smith: So the idea behind maybe... Not only because I haven't talked to you since we saw each other in Las Vegas last year, right?

Julie Jones: Yeah.

Rich Smith: The idea was, talk to me about as a nurse, how do you keep your head right through all of this?

Julie Jones: Well, okay. I've been a nurse for 37 years. I've been a traveler for almost five. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be applying for unemployment. I got on the website, I had no clue how to do this because first of all, you're my employer, but that didn't show how I worked in Missouri for 10 years just by listing you. I wound up having to actually call the number which I knew to do because another traveler friend of mine said, "Listen, it's just easier to call." So I did. I was done in like 10 minutes then. So that worked out pretty well. But yeah. Right now I'm still kind of in that honeymoon phase where I haven't been home long, I've got a lot of stuff to get done around the house. I'm trying to be kind to myself though and not think, "Oh, I've got to get all this stuff done right now because I've only got a short amount of time." That's probably not true.

Julie Jones: I don't know. My kids have all said, "Oh, you can come visit us." My oldest granddaughter messaged me the other day on Facebook and said, "Oh, I'm sorry you lost your job Grammy, but maybe you could come visit us. But mom said not to get my hopes up." I'm like, wait, did your mom put you up to that? Because she's probably thinking you'd be great help with my kids while I'm working.

Julie Jones: I don't know. I've talked to so many people. Good friends have called just to check on me. I've talked to other travelers, some that I've worked with, one that I actually met in the airport in Las Vegas, after TravCon that I have never worked with. That is our only in person meeting. But I complimented her on her Packer sweatshirts. We've been friends ever since. But yeah. I was talking to a friend of mine that worked at St. Louis with me and he's the sole support of his family and he has a large family and lots of animals and he's pretty stressed. I said to him today, I said, "How are you really?" He's like, "Well, in what way?" And I'm like, "Just in general. Here we are jobless. We don't have our unemployment yet. Are you okay?" And he's like, "Yeah, overall, I am." He said, "It's hard. There's no getting around it."

Rich Smith: It's such a common answer because that's... And I'm guilty. I've said it too. [Rainy 00:07:35] brought it up in the thread there in Atlas and friends too, don't forget the recruiters. It's a hard time for us too.

Julie Jones: Right, and I have the best recruiter. She's awesome.

Rich Smith: Missy is pretty fantastic.

Julie Jones: I don't know who's responsible for that matchup, but I greatly appreciate it.

Rich Smith: I'll take responsibility because I hired Matt.

Julie Jones: Okay.

Rich Smith: I don't know.

Julie Jones: I just didn't know how I got her after my previous recruiter left. All of a sudden she just texted me and said, "Hey, Julie. [inaudible 00:08:10]. This is my new recruiter."

Rich Smith: There you go. You know what? I don't even know. I don't know. I don't know.

Julie Jones: I don't know. But hey, she's a Packers fan, so it's all good. I was exchanging recipes with her the other day.

Rich Smith: But these are things that like... I was going to say this is like... If someone asks you, like, "How are you?" And you're like, "Oh, I'm fine."

Julie Jones: That's exactly what we all say.

Rich Smith: Right?

Julie Jones: Yeah. I called my other friend, I'm like, "Well, I don't know. I'm just feeling kind of down today. I had to call unemployment. It just feels not right." In the end I'll get through it. I'll be fine. I am fortunate that I was actually saving for a great vacation. So I have a fair amount of money stocked away for a vacation that won't happen this year, but it gives me extra padding so I can go a little longer if I have to.

Rich Smith: Good. I mean, that's probably an uncommon thing. None of us are good savers really, when it comes... You know?

Julie Jones: I know, and they always say as a traveler, you should have three months saved. But I mean, how many of us really do?

Rich Smith: Right. Right. The one constant with me and with my wife too, is like, there are certain groups of the country that are severely underpaid. Nurse is one of them. I mean, I've worked with nurses for 16 years now. Right. Teachers. Neither of us are teachers. Good Lord. Trying to teach a fourth grader. What?

Julie Jones: Yeah. My daughter has learned to pick her battles with that.

Rich Smith: Actually, that came up today. It actually came up today as we were talking to someone from the school, and they actually said, "You need to understand pick your battles and you need to understand when you just walk away."

Julie Jones: Yeah.

Rich Smith: Then I guess, where do you go from here? Because I don't think we're ever going to take the traveler out of you. I think you're going to keep doing that no matter what. I hope.

Julie Jones: I did tell Missy, I said, "I did apply for a permanent position because I don't know when I'll get back to normal." But I know that the institution that that position is with is notorious for not paying very well. I don't really want to live on that kind of money. I mean, I've been traveling now for almost five years, so it's hard to imagine anything else.

Julie Jones: A friend and I were talking to this friend that I was talking to you last night, Margie, we talked about the fact that when they come back, are they going to pay as well? Probably not because hospitals are not going to have money. They're bleeding money. I know they have this money coming from the federal government, but I know a lot of them have spent a lot of money dumping in PTO hours into their core staff. They don't have a lot of revenue coming in right now. I mean, she and I talked about the possibility of traveling together. That way, it's easier to get a place, costs less that way. I don't know. I don't know if I really want to live with anybody though.

Rich Smith: I can tell you coming out of 2008, there's a lot of parallels right now. There wasn't like a month or two back. But there's a lot of parallels right now. Rates did not recover for a bit, but the jobs were back and it was just one of those like, well, all right kind of deals.

Julie Jones: Yeah. Suck it up and do it.

Rich Smith: Right. But then eventually we hit the upside of the swing and the rates went up.

Julie Jones: Yeah.

Rich Smith: There was a lag there. There was definitely some lag time there. But the light at the end of the tunnel was the jobs came back first.

Julie Jones: Right. Survivable, providing you've got enough money to live on.

Rich Smith: Sure. I don't think your story about taking a perm job is necessarily uncommon either. I have a feeling that's probably going to be a rather common thing for a bit and then there's going to be that itch-

Julie Jones: Yeah. talk about that.

Rich Smith: The travelers to get back out again, right?

Julie Jones: Oh man. I hate these staff meetings. I don't want to do this thing and.

Rich Smith: Damn hospital politics whatever else.

Julie Jones: That is the worst, hospital politics. That is the worst.

Rich Smith: I think in the end then, I worry about... And it's just natural. I mean, I worry about my internal staff. I worry about you and the thousand that we have out there. I don't even know. It's even hard to verbalize. You just want to say, "Are you okay?" And when you say, "Oh, I'm fine."

Julie Jones: And you think, "Are you really fine?"

Rich Smith: Right.

Julie Jones: Yeah, and I think as nurses, we all tend to say, "Oh yeah, we're fine. We're fine." Only once in a while, will you admit that you're not fine, but I am fortunate, I think, that I have really good friends who are nurses who can kind of see this. Then I have good travel friends who are nurses or good nurse travelers that I know that we're in the same boat. So we're all kind of checking in on each other a little more often, I think, than we would have in the past. That's somebody you feel like you can say... And one of these travelers said, "Yeah, I've had a really tough couple of days and I'm so glad that you reached out to me." That kind of thing. Because I think we're all going to kind of go through that, especially if we're off for any length of time. And I think we all will be right now.

Rich Smith: At least for the short amount of time maybe. Summer, I hope. Hopefully by fall. There's an undeniable truth-

Julie Jones: Go ahead.

Rich Smith: There's an undeniable truth that the flu season's coming again. Flu season isn't going to... Nothing's going to stop that.

Julie Jones: Right. In September, we're going to start seeing the preterm babies. September, October. Yeah. They did ask me at St. Louis if I would be willing to come back. The only thing is I've been there for 10 months. So it kind of limits the amount of time I can spend there. I don't know how that works out now in a pandemic.

Rich Smith: That's a good question. I think no matter what, some of those rules and maybe some of the red flags that might have been red flags before are going to be a little more...

Julie Jones: Try to be flexed a little.

Rich Smith: Yeah.

Julie Jones: Yeah. A little more flexible. That's probably true.

Rich Smith: I have a feeling. Yeah.

Julie Jones: But yeah, I am fine. We're fine. We're fine.

Rich Smith: You're fine. Everything's fine. It's totally fine.

Julie Jones: Everything's fine.

Rich Smith: Don't worry about it.

Julie Jones: Yeah. Yeah. It'll all come out in the end, but people have got to get through it. I hope people will check on their friends and not be afraid to reach out to their friends and their family. I think for me, that's the big thing. Reach out to my friends and family if I need them or just to check on my friends and family. Because I know I'm sure I've got a lot of people that are not working.

Rich Smith: You've just answered my last question, like how do you do that? It's just you make that extra effort.

Julie Jones: Yeah. You just really have to figure out how to center yourself, I think, during this too. I think reaching out to them, for me having that routine, getting my walk in with the dog every day. We did that in St. Louis too. We would walk out at Arch Park every day that it was nice enough to walk. Because there was nobody there. There was nobody at Arch Park. I think everyone thought it was closed. It wasn't really closed. I mean, the facility was, the arch was closed, but Arch Park is beautiful to walk in in the spring. Yeah. I think you have to be kind to yourself and realize that none of this had anything to do with you. It's everything to do with just the current way things are going.

Rich Smith: Yeah. And then just have-

Julie Jones: I just hope by fault, we have more PPE because we still don't have enough I don't think.

Rich Smith: Okay. That's a good question too. How was that, and was it...

Julie Jones: I'm in a low risk unit as far as NICU. They were really good over at Parkland. They would check moms and anybody who was positive for COVID, their baby had to go to a separate place. They obviously couldn't just go to the nursery. They went to a separate area. The only thing I had to worry about were parents that came in and where they had been and what they had been doing. We were masked pretty much the whole time, but it was just a regular surgical mask and the parents, they would wear a mask in, usually homemade mask of some sort. But then when they were in their baby's room, they would take it off. So you would still... And we did have a couple of parents that we did test. They were negative.

Julie Jones: But I know there was one mom that came back negative three times. So she was really sick. So they bronched her and found the COVID deep in her lungs when they bronched her. So yeah, it's just not right always right up there the surface, I guess. I'm anxious actually to hear your interview with, I think it was Michelle, who just got done working in a COVID unit. I'm very interested to hear that one.

Rich Smith: I know. If you haven't watched Beth's, Beth Vandenbush was one of Jake's travelers, she was planning to go home and go perm anyway. But this last contract, it wasn't supposed to be, and it turns into like COVID patients all the time and it was heavy.

Julie Jones: Oh, I'm sure.

Rich Smith: It was hard.

Julie Jones: I'm sure. Everything I've heard and read, it's terrible.

Rich Smith: Yeah. I don't know. It's not something that we'd ever seen before. We're living through some history right now, and this is going to define things for a while, but it's hard right now in the moment to try to make sense of some of it.

Julie Jones: It won't be until years later that people look back on it and say, "Oh, well, if they had done this or this, then they could have made it better." Hindsight is always 20/20.

Rich Smith: Always.

Julie Jones: Always.

Rich Smith: Julie, I miss you. I hope you're okay. I hope you're really, really okay.

Julie Jones: Look, I have some New Glarus stashed at my house, so I'm okay.

Rich Smith: Can you mail me some? Can I get some of that?

Julie Jones: No, I'm not mailing you any. I have a daughter in Wisconsin. She brought me Raspberry Tart at Christmas.

Rich Smith: Man.

Julie Jones: Yeah. I've been hoarding my New Glarus just for times like this. Because I thought maybe I'd get up there, but probably not.

Rich Smith: The Raspberry Tart one was probably my favorite that-

Julie Jones: The cherry. It was the cherry that you liked so well, but the Raspberry Tart is really good too.

Rich Smith: Okay. It was the cherry. So we have the secret beer fridge in the back, right? That isn't so much of a secret anymore.

Julie Jones: Probably not.

Rich Smith: There was a Friday afternoon where... This was before quarantine and everything else. There was a Friday afternoon where Diane went back to the secret beer fridge, which is odd for her because normally she wouldn't partake in the secret beer fridge. She came back and she had already opened it and she was drinking and she was like, "I found this one. Is this okay?" And it was the last one. And I said, "Yes. It's okay."

Julie Jones: Promise I'm going to be back to Wisconsin when things open up and I'll make a run for you.

Rich Smith: There we go.

Julie Jones: Actually Mackenzie's coming. Mackenzie was talking about coming down for my birthday, so maybe she'll make a run down. If she does that, I'll say, "Okay, listen, I need..." If she comes down, I'll check with you and ask you what you need.

Rich Smith: I'll take whatever I can get.

Julie Jones: You can place an order if you want.

Rich Smith: Love it.

Julie Jones: It's just as limited to the amount she can put it in her car with her dog.

Rich Smith: Absolutely, without getting pulled over for bootlegging.

Julie Jones: Right. Right. Well, she could cover it up and the dog, just looks like it's dog stuff. Maybe she could put it in the dog's crate and cover up the crate.

Rich Smith: Good call. That's good.

Julie Jones: Yeah. Yeah. Nurses can be stinky sometimes.

Rich Smith: That'd be real bootlegging right there. That's old school bootlegging. A lot of information there. A lot of good information. Not always the best rosiest, brightest picture, but that's just kind of how it is right now. I think one of the things I'm super proud of here is in the bad times, we're going to tell you it's bad times. We're not going to sugarcoat it. Are there are a lot of jobs out there right? No, not really. Are there a lot of good jobs right out there right now? No, not at all. But we didn't all magically just get healthier. I didn't stop eating Burger King. At some point I got to go back to the hospital for high blood pressure. I take medication for it right now. That's just me. I got to go back to that sometimes. Who knows what's going to happen? But the babies are still going to be born. You're still going to need the NICU. You're going to need to PICU. You're still going to have peds units. You're still going to have people with heart conditions. You're still going to have people with mental health issues.

Rich Smith: None of that just all of a sudden got better. If anything, our lack of self care, not wanting to go into the hospital system maybe has gotten worse. That's going to show an increase in the hospital system coming this fall and winter. Who knows? But what I do know is we didn't all magically get healthier and those jobs are going to come back around and there's still a nursing shortage and nothing with that has changed. So it may be hard to find jobs right now. It may be difficult on travel contracts. It's a cycle, and these things happen. I've seen it before, and I'm sure we'll see it in the industry again. Hang in there, stay strong, stay mentally strong. Check on each other. Ask your friends, ask your fellow nurses, "Are you okay?" And don't just take, "Yeah, I'm fine" at face value. Generally, you're not fine. Just having that person to talk to is more important than anything right now. Listening to each other, being there for each other is very important. We'll see you next week.