Alumni Life: Emma Cranston ’13

Friday, July 31, 2020
Emma Cranston ’13

Emma Cranston ’13 is used to the fear of the unknown. “I’m a registered nurse in the emergency department,” she says, “and we have different types of patients every day.” Although working at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore has given her experience with many injuries and illnesses, nothing could have prepared her for the devastating effect that the spread of COVID-19 has had.

When she first heard about the disease in January, it had only been seen in China. Nobody anticipated the speed at which it spreads or how many people would be infected. “I didn’t think it was going to be solved quickly, but I didn’t have any inclination of what it would become,” Cranston says. Although Cranston heard it was a respiratory disease that people were recovering from, similar to the seasonal flu, she says, “It isn’t like that at all. This is serious. Even healthy people who catch it aren’t doing well, but I believe we’ll work through this and be okay.”

When the first person with uncertain symptoms walked into her workplace, Cranston says they weren’t prepared: “At first, we were saying, ‘Oh my God, what do we do?’ But we recovered quickly.” After that, there was a slow trickle of admittance. In January and February, there were only a few patients admitted. “Then, people stopped coming in,” she remembers. “They were scared.” In early March, the hospital was flooded with patients. “It was overwhelming. Every day there’d be a new protocol, a new patient, and not enough people to help.” 

When a patient comes in presenting with COVID-19 symptoms, it’s the job of Cranston and her co-workers to rule out anything it might be before they can test for COVID. If it’s something else, the patient likely doesn’t have COVID-19, but that’s not always the case. “There’s still so much we don’t know about this disease,” she says.

After an uncertain start, Cranston says her hospital now has protocols in place to protect the staff and the patients. The emergency department was initially the only part of the hospital that had designated treatment areas, and beds filled up fast. Now, the entire hospital is equipped to treat patients. Over six weeks, the hospital designed its own screening test for everyone entering the hospital, and set up tents outside the hospital to administer the test. Stable patients are allowed to go home, but those who are very sick have to remain in the hospital. “If you have any symptoms, you’re sent to a negative-pressure room,” Cranston says, explaining that a negative-pressure room is an isolation room that uses an air-filtration system to make sure airborne contagions don’t escape.

These are only some of the safety measures put into place. If a staff member is pregnant, that person is not allowed to work with COVID-19 patients. If a staff member is immunocompromised, that person is not forced to work with COVID-19 patients, and the hospital is making sure that its staff is being paid even if they can’t work right now.

Nearly every day, the hospital holds meetings and sends regular emails to update staff on what the hospital is doing and how they’re doing it, and there’s usually new personal protective equipment (PPE) instructions. “PPE is essential during this time, and Johns Hopkins is doing a great job of keeping us safe,” Cranston says; she adds that hospitals are struggling to get PPE because there’s a shortage, but Johns Hopkins has a surplus warehouse. However, even that isn’t going to last forever. “We originally went through our regular yellow gowns so fast it wasn’t sustainable,” she says. Now, they’re coming up with new gowns. Ford Motor Company has contracted with the hospital and is making reusable gowns out of airbag material. “It took some getting used to, but they work,” she says. “I feel lucky to be working at a large hospital that is committed to keeping us updated and safe.”

To try and stay positive, Cranston suggests eating healthy, getting outside, and exercising. “Resting is good,” she says. “We’re all exhausted from this pandemic, so taking five naps a day is okay.” She advises following the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and doing what makes you happy: “When you’re stressed, it’s easy to go down a dark path. Give yourself quiet time.” 

In response to how the situation is being handled in this country, Cranston says that disease shouldn’t be politicized. “People in charge want to get their way,” she says, “but it’s not fair to make absolute statements about this disease when there’s so much we don’t know.” She advises listening to all sides and making informed decisions. The bottom line? “Don’t drink Lysol!”