Sherrard Coakley, a 25-year-old nurse who works in the Accident and Emergency Department at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH), had feared she would contract the coronavirus despite following strict protocols, including wearing PPEs while at work.
Her fears were realized on August 16, when she found out she was positive.
“Honestly, in the second wave of COVID-19, I expected to get it,” Coakley told The Nassau Guardian.
“I expected to get it because I guess it was a coping mechanism for me. For me to go to work, in my mind, I had to tell myself, ‘Even though you’re gowned from head to toe, you have all your protective equipment, you have been taught to take it off and put it on without possibly getting contaminated, even though you were taught that multiple times, you are human and you can make an error.’ “
Coakley went to South Beach Clinic on August 15 to get a COVID-19 test.
She said she had to wait under a tent at the clinic with an IV needle in her hand for more than four hours to get swabbed for COVID-19, after being contacted about her possible exposure to the coronavirus.
“I sat in that chair from 6 p.m. up until 10:30 p.m. that day,” Coakley said.
“The rain came down. Me and the two nurses got [soaked] under the tent while I’m sitting there with an IV in my hand getting fluids. After 11 p.m., they said I needed a scan.”
Coakley said she wanted to know what was wrong with her right away.
“They wanted me to get an x-ray on the inside of the clinic,” she said.
“I told them I would rather walk in the rain to hurry to get this x-ray to find out what’s wrong. I limped myself in the rain with an IV in my hand and I made it inside.”
Coakley said she was experiencing challenges with her breathing along with a high temperature.
“Because I have been battling with an autoimmune disorder, some of the symptoms that link to COVID-19, also linked to the disorder,” she said.
“I assume this was the reason why I ended up with a high temperature.”
While in “mild distress”, Coakley was sent home to wait for her test results.
“I also was in pain from the autoimmune disorder,” she said.
“They gave me some pain meds. They gave me a prescription for some antibiotics. They said, ‘Everywhere is full Nurse Coakley. We don’t have any place for you to go. Can you quarantine at home?’”
Coakley said she endured a painful night of severe COVID-19-like symptoms.
“I felt like crap the entire night,” she said. “I got up that morning and I felt way worse.”
Coakley said her mother, who lives in Eleuthera, became concerned that she did not look well while she spoke with her on a video call.
“She called three nursing supervisors,” the nurse said.
“She called the supervisor of the emergency department. She called the principal nursing officer of the entire hospital. She also called Amancha Williams, the Bahamas’ nurses union president. She said someone needed to come to get her child out of that house and into PMH, so she could be assisted.”
Coakley was transported to PMH by a close friend.
“When I arrived, everyone recognized me and said that they would make sure I was good,” she said.
“I sat in that chair for about three hours. I was outside in a chair panting. I was sweating profusely and I [had] about three bags around me. Just sitting there.”
She was wheeled into another area where she waited six hours to be seen by a doctor.
The nurse said she knew the circumstances health officials currently undergo in the hospital and understood that doctors and nurses are being “stretched thin”.
After she received her positive COVID-19 result, she was transferred to the Legacy Ward, which deals with COVID-19 patients.
“I call it a tin can,” she said.
“That’s what it feels like. It’s a tin can with windows on the inside. I spent a day there. I was moved to Doctors Hospital West.”
Coakley said after two weeks, she was discharged because she was breathing on her own.
“I still had shortness of breath, but because it was a part of my underlying conditions, it was supposed to get better with time,” she said.
Last week Monday, Coakley’s symptoms worsened and she was advised by a colleague to come into the hospital.
“I started having respiratory issues,” she said.
“I called employee health. While I was talking to her, she heard the shortness of my breath in my voice. She Facetimed me and asked me to do my vital signs. She saw that my pulse rate was very high; way above the normal. I was breathing kind of fast. She called an ambulance.”
The nurse spent three days in the hospital waiting for a scan.
“In order for a COVID-19 patient to get a scan, they have to arrange that with radiology,” she said. “Radiology has to give you a time. They have to call EMS because they are the only people gowned properly. So, that’s what I was waiting on.”
Coakley was discharged on Wednesday, although she was still having respiratory issues.
“All my labs came back normal, so there was no reason for them to keep me,” she said.
“I don’t want to hold up the bed for somebody else who may need it. I’ve been placed on steroid inhalers. Still having a lot of shortness of breath. From Wednesday to now, I have been having challenges. I refuse to go back to that hospital.”
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers have had an increased workload, which resulted in much frustration in the industry, as well as many frontline workers being exposed to the virus.
On August 24, health officials said 72 healthcare workers had contracted COVID-19 since July.
“The fight for COVID-19, with nurses being stretched thin, is everywhere,” said Coakley as she struggled to breathe.
“We’re stretched thin, but they are doing the best they can on the Legacy Ward. It’s stretched thin in The Bahamas and the entire world. Hospitals are struggling everywhere to take care of COVID-19-positive patients. It’s not just here. I just wish people in The Bahamas would understand that.”