Dispatches from the vascular front: A vascular nursing perspective in times of COVID-19

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Jayme Boudreaux

For almost the first month after COVID-19 hit New Orleans with a vengeance, vascular nurse Jayme Boudreaux, APRN, found herself largely stuck at home, desperate to redeploy in anyway she could to do her bit to help stop the virus in its tracks.

With elective vascular surgery ground to a virtual halt, Boudreaux’s work as a nurse practitioner assisting the surgeons in the Louisiana State University Healthcare Network followed suit.

For the last nearly three weeks, however, Boudreaux has found herself on a new front: working as part of a team to administer COVID-19 testing in some of the worst-hit parts of New Orleans, a city with a death rate reported to be twice that of New York City. Boudreaux is part of a statewide effort to administer 200,000 tests per month across the state of Louisiana, a target set by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

“It’s been a huge change,” Boudreaux tells Vascular Specialist late Wednesday, just as National Nurses Day is winding down. “My background is as an ICU [intensive care unit] nurse. I’m used to a very fast-paced environment, taking care of very sick people, doing something very meaningful, being in the office assisting my doctors in any capacity that they need. Well, all of a sudden we’re no longer seeing patients in the office, only those who need to be seen.”

She notes a sense of relief at still having a job and salary: Her work as a vascular nurse—in which she has a particular focus on venous disease—initially reverted to phone visits with patients, working through the kind of problems that usually land at clinic, and moving to assist the surgeons.

Then came the call to join a testing team, and the novelty of being at home having subsided—”it’s nice to get away from homeschooling your own children”—off she went to the viral front.

“It’s great to be back interacting with colleagues and patients,” Boudreaux explains. “Here in New Orleans, we’re going to areas that are considered hotpsots but are also areas where maybe patients don’t have good access to healthcare or transportation, so we’re going to their neighborhood to help them. They’re so grateful—appreciative. It’s been a really great effort. March 23 was when our stay at home order went into effect, and this is our third week of [involvement] in testing.”

The work has been brisk.

“We’re doing about 1,000 tests a week,” she continues. “I don’t know the outcome of last week’s tests, but for our testing for the first week of 1,000 people, less than 5% were positive. We’re not great in a lot of things in Louisiana—education, economics—but even the president’s staff mentioned our efforts here in terms of social distancing and the amount of tests we’re doing.”

Earlier—keen to get to go to work to help in the battle against the virus—Boudreaux, a New Orleans native, had offered her services to other hospitals but couldn’t find an ICU unit that would take her on. That came against a backdrop of a significant outbreak in the city.

“We were up there with New York,” she says. “It exploded here. They’re relating it to Mardi Gras. So many people come from out of town for Mardi Gras. in hindsight, should Mardi Gras have been canceled? Well, even the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] said New Orleans wasn’t warned enough. Who’s to say if it would have been the right or wrong decision.

“Our governor has a daily news conference, and I think the latest deaths are up a little more than they’d like but cases are down, hospitalizations are down … extra ventilators were never needed.”

As Boudreaux looks ahead to her next round of testing in stricken areas of her home city, she considers the larger picture.

“It’s not about just us, it’s about contributing to a group and a team effort to get through this, doing whatever we can in any manner to take care of patients or our doctors,” she says. “It’s nice to have a little attention but so many other people deserve it—it’s all such a group effort.”

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