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East County Wednesday, May 20, 2020 2 weeks ago

Not so safe at home for Lakewood Ranch area nurses

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Healthcare worker isolates himself from his family to protect them.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

For nearly two months, Greenbrook’s Andrew Arbanas would come home from work at Manatee Memorial Hospital, where he cared for patients with COVID-19 as a nurse, only to continue his isolation from his family.

In the garage, he would strip off his work clothes before heading upstairs to his bedroom to sleep after working the overnight shift.

His wife, Tiffany, pulled a mattress into the hallway for herself, so they could sleep separately.

“We couldn’t spend any time with him,” she said.

Besides Arbanas being exposed to COVID-19 patients each day, his children had various minor illnesses he didn’t want to contract and bring back to the hospital.

While families all over East County quarantined themselves at home, Arbanas had a heightened awareness of isolation.

Although his family members were just a room away, their conversations were limited to text messages and video calls.

Their children — 17-year-old Trenton, 9-year-old Jude, 8-year-old Aryella and 3-year-old Jaxson — missed giving their father a hug.

In early May, Arbanas’ responsibilities at the hospital changed to where he had less contact with COVID-19

Andrew Arbanas, a nurse at Manatee Memorial Hospital, must wear a respirator and other protective gear while working a 13-hour shift with COVID-19 patients.

patients. With hospital protocols in place, he became comfortable with reintroducing himself to family life.

He could have opted for another assignment rather than working with the COVID-19 patients, but he felt it was too important an assignment.

“I’d rather dance with the devil I know than the one I don’t,” he said.

Each hospital shift, he spent 15 minutes just getting into his special COVID-19 safety attire, which included protective coveralls with a hood, protective glasses or a face shield, multiple layers of gloves and a respirator.

“My face would look like it had three sets of cheeks by the end of the day,” Arbanas said. “For 13 hours, you can’t scratch your face. It’s pretty intense.”

For each person he cared for, he pulled out a photo of himself, his wife and his children to show the patient he’s just like them and not some faceless person hidden behind layers of protection.

Arbanas said that although most who contract the coronavirus recover, and many do not even show symptoms, the virus is serious business. He cared for most of his patients between two and four weeks, and some didn’t go home. The hospital has reported more than 30 COVID-19 deaths.

“It’s not the flu. It’s not even close to the flu,” he said.

One patient came into his unit with a fever, dry cough and no other symptoms but quickly needed help getting up. Within an hour, he was on two liters of oxygen. The next hour, it was five. An hour later, 10, and it got worse. The patient, nearly in tears, reached for Arbanas’ arm. “Please don’t let me die,” the patient said.

“‘Not on my watch,’” Arbanas said he told the patient, who survived. “At that moment, you look at this person, and they’re scared. You have to be every part of their family you can be because [their own families] can’t be there.”

He said caring for COVID-19 patients is tough physically and emotionally, but he enjoys the work. If he got furloughed locally, he would consider going to New York or other areas where there’s a need for nurses caring for COVID-19 patients.

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