My name is Virginia Fife. I am currently a Supervisor of the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at Children’s Hospital of Alabama (COA) in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Within our Neurophysiology Department, we have an Electroencephalography (EEG) outpatient unit, Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU), and Intraoperative Monitoring Unit (IONM) unit. Like other Neurophysiology departments around America, 2020 definitely impacted us greatly. This is a brief story of my experience during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The year 2020 started for me as usual. I was a registered technologist working in the EMU at COA and was studying for my CLTM. In mid-February of 2020, I passed my CLTM exam and planned on pursuing my next goal of learning — Nerve Conduction. About one month later, our department received the shocking news that Pamela Parks, our beloved EMU Supervisor, had suddenly passed away. Before we reel from this devastating news, the COVID-19 hit America.
The feeling of uncertainty from COVID-19 was immense from many different angles. The hospital decided to temporarily close all non-essential clinics and departments for approximately two months, including our department. However, in-patient long-term monitoring EEGs were still being ordered from the Neurology team. This was helpful for the EEG technologists financially but also extremely scary due to the amount of exposure from patients and patient families. The EMU technologists volunteered to help in the on-call rotation due to the amount of long-term EEGs that were being ordered; many of which were COVID-19-positive patients.
The personal protective equipment (PPE) we are required to wear during an LTM EEG is a gown, gloves, an N-95 mask, and an eye shield. Some nurses and EEG techs also wore bouffants or OR caps to cover their hair (one technologist we work with still wears an OR cap during her shift). We were required to attend a one-on-one training class on how to properly wear all required PPE and how to correctly take it off to minimize the spread of the virus. We were also taught how to properly disinfect and dispose of contaminated N-95 masks.
During the first on-call shift I had during the pandemic, I received a page from the Neurologist who had placed an order for an LTM EEG for a patient in the pediatric ICU (PICU). I called the Neurologist for verbal confirmation about the order, and before the conversation ended, she informed me that the patient had tested positive for COVID-19, and they wanted to see if the patient had encephalopathy from the virus. As I drove to the hospital, my head was swimming with thoughts of, “What if I contract COVID-19 from this patient? Will I be able to quarantine myself correctly, so I don’t spread this to my children and husband? What if I contract the virus unknowingly and accidentally pass it to someone else?” I got to the hospital, gathered the necessary EEG equipment and went to the PICU. Soon after I dressed with all of the required PPE, I receive another call from a different Neurologist telling me that the LTM order on this COVID-positive patient was not necessary. I immediately felt a great relief!
COA allowed the Neurophysiology department to re-open at half capacity in May and June of 2020. In the EMU, we have eight beds, but at this time, we were only opening four of those rooms for our epilepsy patients. We are grateful that they did not open at full capacity as we were still very concerned and nervous about COVID-19. Over the next few months, we slowly but surely opened back to full capacity. Unfortunately, we have become accustomed to some of our EMU patients testing positive for COVID-19, which is why we continue to wear appropriate PPE in all of our patient rooms.
Author: Virginia Fife, BS, R. EEG T., CLTM, EMU Supervisor Neurophysiology Labs, Children’s of Alabama
This guest blog is written as part of ASET’s Neurodiagnostic Week story series that highlights the experience of Neurodiagnostic technologists during the COVID-19 pandemic.