Perspective of a Type 1 Healthcare Worker

Perspective of a Type 1 Healthcare Worker

Kelly Pearson is a family nurse practitioner who works at a busy urgent care center, and also lives with type 1 diabetes. Kelly took the time to answer some of our most pressing questions concerning the Coronavirus outbreak. Thank you, Kelly, for your time, and for being on the front lines during such an uncertain time, putting yourself at risk to help others.


I understand you work for Fairview Health Services, one of the largest Urgent Care in our country, in suburban St. Paul, MN. At what point did your organization start preparing for the COVID-19 breakout? 

I’m not sure, but we started testing for COVID-19 via drive up cars at my urgent care 8 days ago [around March 10th].

As a family nurse practitioner who is on the front lines, seeing how medical professionals are preparing, do you think we as a country will be able to handle the outbreak and treat all necessary patients?

I have friends that work as ER docs at Hennepin County Medical Center, a large teaching hospital in downtown Minneapolis, and their ultimate plan is to hand out flyers at the door stating that there is no medicine and no testing available for COVID and that the recommendation is to go home and get people to voluntarily sign out. Sadly, they are legally required to see all patients that want to be seen, which will overwhelm the healthcare system quickly if people refuse to go home, and you simply can’t keep them from infecting others in a crowded waiting room. That may simply include a vital sign and lung check and discharge home. I don’t know anything about the ICU capacity and how that’s going, but if regular hospitals are full, we can access the VA.

I don’t know how this will go. I think there will be harder hit areas and nurses from one state may need to up and leave to help as travelers. I hope they will suspend lengthy state-to-state nursing and physician license issues for this.

I read that people with diabetes are not more susceptible to contracting the virus, but the concern is what happens once we get it. What are the main concerns specific to people with diabetes? And, is the risk different for those who have type 1 vs.type 2 diabetes?

I would read this to answer this question. The key message is that well-controlled diabetics seem to do as well as other people their age, assuming they have no additional comorbid conditions, such as heart disease.

Being around patients who have the virus, what do you see as the most challenging aspect of the illness. What should people be most concerned about?

In Urgent Care, the most difficult thing is keeping people out of Urgent Care. We have had patients ignore signs telling them to go back to their car and call-in number for further advice and contaminate the whole clinic, for instance. People need to know that we are not able to help you at all, at least in Minnesota, unless you are severely ill and can’t breathe and then you need to go to the hospital. We are not even allowed to give a nebulizer to an asthmatic with likely Coronavirus because it will cause the virus to live in the air for several hours. You want to help, but you can’t. It sucks.

COVID-19 Perspective of a Type 1 Healthcare Worker 2

Kelly at work with her coworker in the Urgent Care, Jason Kimmel, PA

Having type 1 diabetes yourself, how are you staying healthy so that you don’t contract it? I’m sure you are stressed, tired and overworked?

Unfortunately, my gym closed until further notice today. The gym owners are putting up home workouts and actually let us borrow equipment to take home. Today, I did a bodyweight workout that actually kicked my butt.

I’m tired AF.

Something I didn’t think about was how tiring it is to always be aware of what you’re touching, including your face and surfaces. At work, I go by the presumption that all surfaces that come into contact with patients are at least intermittently contaminated with the virus. Information also changes by the hour, and we have to learn something and then unlearn it an hour or two later.

The thing that has stressed me out the most this week was the announcement this morning that no patients will receive COVID-19 testing unless they are healthcare workers or hospitalized. Minnesota only had the capacity to do testing for those with fevers, coughs with international travel or known exposures for 7 days. Basically, the only thing we’re tracking now is hospitalizations.

Do you feel comfortable being around loved ones knowing that you’ve been in such close contact, despite the hospitals taking all protective measures?

Good question. I think people are more scared of me because I work in a testing site.  I think my boyfriend is starting to get scared of me, but he’s still being supportive anyway. To make things worse, I get seasonal allergies right around now, so I’ve been aggressively treating those. I otherwise live alone.

As someone who has seen the symptoms and complications associated with this disease, as a person with diabetes, are you worried about your own health if you should contract COVID-19? I’ve read that vitamin D might help?

Yes, I’m worried about my health. I hope that being a lifelong athlete will do something. I think vitamin D helps all infections, but I don’t know of any statistic off the top of my head.

Many people are taking this very seriously, but some are not, including some millennials and the elderly. What would your message be to them?

As a Christian, we are supposed to work together, love your neighbor as yourself, not be selfish. I’ve seen a lot of instances of this so far. I think folks are coming around overall, but we’ve shut everything down to prove our point, too.

As this was so far an international travel and cruise ship issue for the most part (the overwhelming majority of patients are white and upper-middle-class), I’m mostly worried about when it hits our refugee and the immigrant population, who cannot readily access written information and may not trust information from the government. I have not seen information posted in other languages in the community. Hopefully, it’s getting there and accurate.

Overall, leaving politics out of it (albeit challenging), some people think we may be overreacting or that the media is hyping this up. How serious do you think this virus is and how serious should people take the instructions coming from ours/their government? 

Computer models show we’re about 11 days behind Italy. We’re really only a week into this here. During H1N1, we ran out of ventilators at our hospital in downtown Saint Paul, and I (ER nurse at the time) hand-ventilated a lady who needed a ventilator for two hours while the respiratory therapist called all over the Twin Cities at 3 am begging other hospitals to loan us ventilators. We were able to find one total. I think this is the best case scenario. Coronavirus is much more deadly than H1N1. Listen and stay home, wash your hands like your neurotic cousin. Assume any temp over 99.5 with even a minimal cough is corona, and don’t you dare leave.  Have an agreement with someone who will pick up your food and medications for you and you for them.


Thank you again, Kelly for taking the time to talk to us today. Stay safe and thank you for everything you do.

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