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A Nurse’s Guide to Staying Healthy While Treating COVID-19 Patients

by Melissa Bell
5 minutes read

As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the world, nurses in countless communities are on the frontlines helping patients battle the disease. Plagued by shortages of vital personal protective equipment (PPE) and exhausted by seemingly endless shifts, they continue lacing up their nursing shoes, donning their favorite pair of nursing scrubs and heading into the proverbial battlefield each day.

With most nurses throughout the nation working in direct contact with COVID-19 patients without the appropriate protective equipment, staying healthy is a huge challenge. If you are a nurse and you are concerned about staying healthy despite being exposed to the novel coronavirus when treating patients, keep reading for some helpful advice.

stop covid-19 coronavirus

Make Time for Rest

Working back-to-back shifts to care for sick patients is a noble and selfless endeavor. It’s important to remember, though, that you need to take care of yourself, too. You can’t pour from an empty cup, and if you fail to replenish your body with the sleep it needs, you will start feeling run down and become more likely to get sick.

Lack of sleep damages your immune system. It also slows down your reaction times and makes it more difficult to concentrate. In doing so, it makes it more challenging for you to deliver high-quality patient care and can cause you to make potentially dangerous mistakes.

Not getting enough sleep has an effect on the body that is similar to drinking alcohol. In fact, studies have found that going 24 hours without sleep is equivalent to having a blood alcohol level of 0.1 percent. You wouldn’t try to do your job under the influence of alcohol because doing so is unsafe. Why would you try doing it without sleep?

Improve Your Diet

You probably educate most of your patients on the importance of a healthy diet. If you are working non-stop to provide quality care to suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients, though, you may not be taking the time to make healthy food choices for yourself.

If you are running on little more than junk food and coffee, it’s time to slow down a bit and enjoy some healthy meals. You don’t have to completely overhaul your diet, but you should consider switching out sugary snacks for protein and making sure you are eating fresh fruits and vegetables, etc.

Keep in mind, too, that there are foods that can give your immune system a much-needed boost. Peppers and citrus fruits, for example, are loaded with vitamin C which, as you know, is vital for a healthy immune system. Also, garlic produces an immune response and can strengthen your immune system. And if you do start feeling a bit under the weather, whip up a batch of homemade chicken soup. It really can help you recover from an illness faster.

Drink More Water

nurse covid water

This goes along with improving your diet, but if you want to stay healthy, you need to drink water. If you are downing several sodas or cups of coffee to make it through your shift, you are not doing your body any favors. Caffeine may give you a temporary boost, but it speeds up dehydration. And when you are dehydrated, your body isn’t able to operate at peak performance.

If you are dehydrated, you may get a headache or find it difficult to concentrate. Both of these issues can, of course, cause you to make mistakes that could increase your risk of contracting COVID-19 from a patient. Ideally, you should be drinking about 64 ounces of water each day to keep your mind sharp and enable your body to operate at its peak.

When treating COVID-19 patients, you may want to avoid carrying a water bottle with you in your nursing jacket pocket throughout your shift to avoid contamination. If you are keeping your water in the breakroom or at the nurses’ station, set a timer to remind yourself to go take a drink at least every two hours.

Exercise Regularly

The gyms may be closed, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to work out. While you spend most of your day on your feet, it’s still important to make sure you are getting at least 30 consistent minutes of cardio each day. It is well-known that exercise strengthens your heart and keeps your body healthy. It also strengthens your immune system, which is vital when you are working with COVID-19 patients.

Take a brisk before or after work or on your lunch break, follow along with a workout video at home or find some other way to raise your heart rate–and keep it elevated–for at least 30 minutes each day. Trust us, your body will thank you!

Keep Washing Your Hands

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By now, your hands are probably dry and cracked from all of the constant washing. The fact remains, though, that washing your hands is one of the absolute best things you can do to protect yourself from COVID-19 and avoid spreading it. With PPE shortages affecting most medical facilities, washing your hands is more important now than ever before.

No matter how tired you are of washing your hands or how dry your skin has gotten, it’s important to keep it up. Washing your hands throughout with soap and warm water truly is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself and others.

The Bottom Line

Nurses have a difficult job during normal circumstances. During the current COVID-19 outbreak, their jobs are even more difficult. As a nurse, you are battling the disease on the frontlines and putting yourself and those close to you at risk every single day.

To keep yourself healthy, it is important to care for your body and maintain excellent hygiene practices. Your job is always an incredibly important one, and it is even more essential during this time. Though there are a lot of people counting on you, it is important to take care of yourself, too. Follow the advice above to increase your chances of staying healthy when treating COVID-19 patients.

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