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Washington University Nurse Describes COVID-19 Challenges in Kidney Dialysis Center

Washington University Nurse Describes COVID-19 Challenges in Kidney Dialysis Center

Karen Kirk , RN with patient.jpg

Renal nurse Karen Kirk sits with a patient.

Karen Kirk’s job as a renal nurse requires that she take extra precautions to care for vulnerable patients with failing kidneys.

“I know dialysis doesn’t have the excitement of the ER [or the] ICU, but our patients depend on us to help sustain their life,” she says. “Our patients need to have dialysis treatment three times every week. We become very attached, and we know how vulnerable they are, especially now.”

Kirk works at Washington University’s Forest Park Dialysis Center, where life has certainly changed for those who work and seek treatment there since the coronavirus appeared. Ladue News asked her about how things have changed and what encourages her to keep going.


Compare a day in your life as a renal nurse before the coronavirus reached Missouri to today. What has the pandemic changed about your work, and what has stayed the same?

As a dialysis unit, we have always considered disinfecting a priority. Now, extra steps are taken to ensure safety for the patients and staff – whereas before, patients would enter the unit from the lobby and weigh, write down their weight and return to the lobby. Now patients are met before entering the lobby to receive a mask, cleanse hands with sanitizer, have [their] temperature taken and asked pertinent questions about how they are feeling. They are then seated at least 6 feet apart and await their turn for treatment.

We now have isolation areas for any patient who has had any contact with a contaminated person or if any symptoms are suspicious. For active COVID-19 patients, we are now using a separate room for their treatment. We have been wearing extra PPE [personal protective equipment] with the onset of the virus to ensure extra precautions. We now wear face shields [to protect from] possible blood or respiratory droplets, surgical face masks at all times and gowns at all times.

What has been your greatest coronavirus-related challenge at work lately, and how have you handled it?

I believe the greatest challenge is the unknown. We are used to having answers. Now the information seems to be changing daily. What we know for certain is that we don’t have all the answers. I try to stay informed through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization information that is available. We just don’t know enough to feel safe.

What has encouraged you lately? Or how do you find motivation each day?

Our team at Forest Park Kidney Center is close. I know I can count on any one of them to help me with a task or simply listen to my concerns. I find it especially motivating that we gather as a group in the morning for a prayer for guidance. Several staff members have been sewing masks and hats. Though we wear our regular masks, it makes it a little more cheerful to wear a pretty cloth mask over it.

There are various support initiatives popping up to support health care workers right now. What has been most helpful to you, or what can people do to help you?

“Thanks” is always nice to hear. But really, I’m just doing what I’ve always done.

In the war on COVID-19, countless health care workers are battling this coronavirus in different ways each day. Pick up a copy of Ladue News’ May 15 issue or click here to read more about those fighting COVID-19 in the metro area.

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