Four years ago, I became a member of the Nebraska Biocontainment Patient Care Unit. At that time, the unit was looking to recruit additional staff members. I joined because I thought it was a remarkable opportunity to broaden and utilize my skills as a respiratory therapist, within a very unique setting.
When you’re a member of the Biocontainment Unit, it’s crucial that you fully understand how to put on and take off your personal protective equipment (PPE). The infection control practices used within the Biocontainment Unit are specific and detailed with regard to the patient being cared for. Learning about donning (putting on) and doffing (taking off) gave me a great deal of confidence in carrying out my work within the Biocontainment Unit. It also affirms many of the infection control practices we utilize in other heath care settings.
Donning and doffing is done as a team. At each donning and doffing station, we have large posters to remind everyone of the steps. Working with one or more team members, and utilizing the posters, provides layers of safety and certainty. When leaving the hot zone, it is critical that your PPE is removed with a partner. Under no circumstances do you ever do it alone. You rely on and trust your doffing partner. Together, you follow the steps and remove gear in proper sequence. It is absolutely a team effort. You depend on each other to stay safe. Staying safe is what builds your confidence in the team and in your own work.
Depending upon my assignment, I would typically be in PPE for 3-4 hours. Rotating in and out of gear generally depends upon the number of staff and the different kinds of workflow happening in the unit on a given day. While wearing PPE, we always keep an eye out for each other. If someone thinks you look tired, hot or need to sit down, they’ll make sure you take a break.
This experience has been a great privilege for me. From the beginning, the entire team has felt confident in our ability to help Ebola patients at Nebraska Medicine — Nebraska Medical Center. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing your patient get well and walk out the door.
Now that we’ve successfully treated two Ebola patients, we are turning our main focus to education. We’re supporting healthcare institutions all over the world by providing information about the donning and doffing process. I urge you to watch this YouTube video, featuring Biocontainment Unit nurses Kate Boulter and Morgan Shradar. In the video, they answer questions for providers and the public about treating patients with the Ebola virus. We also launched two free online Ebola education courses with the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The courses provide information through videos and printable documents. Education is a powerful tool when it comes to treating and beating this disease.