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This Anchorage ER nurse is among the growing number of health care workers out sick with COVID-19 – Alaska Public Media News

Posted: November 26, 2020 at 1:55 am

Greer Gehler is an Anchorage emergency room nurse who recently tested positive for the coronavirus. (Greer Gehler photo)

For Greer Gehler, an emergency room nurse in Anchorage, it started last Friday with a tickle in her throat. She was on her way home from work.

I chalked that up to sometimes, after wearing a respirator for 12 or 13 hours straight, you get kind of a sort of irritated cough from just breathing in all that moisture for so long, Gehler said.

But, by the next day, a scratchy throat turned into a stuffy nose, a cough and swollen lymph nodes. She cried. She got a rapid COVD-19 test. The result came back as she suspected: positive.

Shes 20 weeks pregnant.

I was pretty emotional, she said. Im 37 years old and pregnant, with my first pregnancy so Im already high risk, so its just a pretty profound fear about complications.

By Wednesday, Gehlers partner, a firefighter, had just tested positive too. And Gehlers symptoms had progressed to body aches and chills.

Gehler will be out of work for at least 10 days. Shes among a growing number of Alaska health care workers who have tested positive for the virus, or who are needing quarantine because of contact with someone who did. Hospital administrators continue to sound the alarm that the increasing absences are leading to serious staffing challenges in an already-strained health care system.

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Gehler has witnessed it firsthand.

With more nurses and doctors, and everyone down to our housekeepers, out sick, that just puts additional strain on the system, she said. And not just in my hospital, but kind of all over the state. Theres beds that are open that we cant put patients in because we dont have the healthy staff to help those patients.

The whole situation makes her so angry.

Even though the number of coronavirus cases in Alaska is rising so rapidly, she still sees people not taking the pandemic seriously.

People are making personal choices about what they want to do. But then some of us are going to work and doing what we have to do. And were getting sick because of their choices, she said.

She said she tried to make safe choices outside of work to avoid the virus.

I dont see my family. I dont see my friends. Ive even stopped doing outdoor activities with friends in case we happened to get too close or are breathing too heavily, she said.

But she still had to go to the hospital.

At work, in recent weeks, shes been treating more and more coronavirus patients. Even after carefully dressing in protective gear each day a surgical cap, gown, respirator, gloves, a face shield she said she knew her risk of becoming infected was increasing. Shes treating some of the states sickest coronavirus patients.

Were just kind of swimming in it at work, she said. So it does feel like its Russian Roulette.

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Gehler said shes sharing her story about becoming infected because she wants more people to follow health guidelines: To wear face masks, to avoid crowds, to keep their distance from people they dont live with.

She sees the impacts of cavalier behavior at work every day: The younger, fit Alaskans who have gotten the virus and are coming in with heart issues. The older Alaskans who have the coronavirus and are so sick theyre delirious.

When we see, you know, one or two deaths reported, whats not being reported is all the people that we are keeping from dying, she said, that are literally dying when they walk through our doors regardless of age and, without serious intensive medical intervention, they would die.

Geheler said she wants people to remember that their choices have downstream impacts, and could lead to the virus spreading to Alaskans who need to be hospitalized or to a health care worker, like herself.

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This Anchorage ER nurse is among the growing number of health care workers out sick with COVID-19 - Alaska Public Media News

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