What made you decide to raise your hand to join the fight against COVID-19?
I’m originally from New York and I have a lot of family and friends that are nurses up here or in the medical field. When this all started, I heard about it going on overseas but didn’t ever expect it to hit my backyard. Then I started hearing stories from friends, and seeing the death reports, and it was just devastating.
A lot of nurses are getting backlash for taking assignments in communities hit hard by COVID. I’ve gotten pressure from my family. They’ve said things like, you’re crazy for going there, what’s wrong with you?
People accuse travel nurses for going after the money. It has nothing to do with money. You could not pay nurses enough up here to do what they’re doing. Especially staff nurses. To go from having one COVID patient to an entire hospital filled with patients within one week is crazy.
My heart just started hurting for the nurses. There’s already so much on your plate as a nurse. I know what it feels like to have one or two nurses miss a shift, let alone to have all these units pop up with no one to staff them.
And it’s not going to stop. I have a soft spot with that. I just felt the need to go. My family was strongly against it, but I had to. There’s something in me that was just kept telling me I needed to go.
So I talked with Sam, my recruiter, about it and we found an assignment in New Jersey.
You have dealt with so much with this assignment. Have you had a breaking point?
On Saturday, I felt super defeated. I am pushing meds nonstop. I have seven critical drips hanging on a patient to keep them sedated because they have a tube in their throat.
Right now, we have people in the hospital who were integrated in an ICU and who are now in step down units. How many more deaths are we going to see?
I’ve had trouble sleeping. I’ve slept one night since I came here. I always just get a just few hours anyways. But I know I’m going to have PTSD. My heart goes out especially to nurses who have been just thrown into this. I’m a traveler, so it’s different.
I mean, I’ve seen enough stuff to mess me up. But your heart just goes out to the people who were just hit by this.
I am constantly doing everything you can to keep my patients alive. But you start asking yourself, why am I doing this? It gets really hard. Sometimes you get a win and it feels so good. But then 30 minutes later, you have another patient who you have to do CPR on them.
It’s like second nature to start doing compressions at this point. I’ve done more compressions here than in the five years of being a nurse.
I stay with patients and hold their hands, so they don’t have to pass away alone.
I couldn’t imagine the whole country dealing with this.
There are no words to explain what we’re facing. Under normal circumstances, as a traveler, staff nurses tend to have a wall up against you. They’ll give you the hardest assignments. You have to prove yourself. But I make sure I do everything they ask and then as what else I can do. So, I’ve made friends at every assignment I’ve been on. I’ve been a nurse for five years.
But it’s different with this assignment. There is no hostility at all. They staff here are just generally grateful.
Could you tell us about the photo with your PPE?
Not being able to see smiles has been devastating because it takes away hope.
Those who know me, or even encounter me for two minutes, know that I’m like Buddy the Elf because, “Smiling is my favorite.” As nurses, we have twisted humor; it comes with the territory. We laugh not to cry. Not being able to see someone smile during this dark time tugs at me throughout the day. I wish these masks could be transparent, so we could at least lend a comforting, in-real-time smile to the patients we extubate and are awake for the first time in weeks, to the ones with more mild cases that are talkies and expressing fearfulness, and to the work family here who has been through hell.
The head ER nurse knew how I felt about it, so she drew me a ‘stache and smile. It got many compliments and “eye smiles” yesterday.
This made me think more about what the new world normal is going to look like. A smile may not mean the same thing in every culture, but to me a smile is timeless. It’s something I’ve never taken for granted and it sucks that this virus is taking everything along the spectrum away; from the complexity of a life to a simple smile.
Do something today to make someone smile, whether you can see it or not. 💚
What do you think were some of the factors that tipped the scales of this pandemic?
I feel like the media hyped everything up, but in the wrong way and at the wrong times. It reminds me of how hurricanes are covered. I grew up in South Carolina where there are hurricanes all the time. You see these videos where these newscasters are like acting as if the wind is knocking them over and then you’ll see like a 40–pound child walking in the background.
I feel like a lot of people had a similar perception of this—that this was all just big hype. At first, I felt like it was, too.
Even now, I talk to my friends in South Carolina who are nurses and it sounds like their media is still downplaying the problem.
I’m working in New Jersey because they got hit just as hard as New York. They are two weeks behind on the waves. So, they’re still getting hit hard. The admissions are starting to slow down, but the patients who are in the hospital being treated are still crashing.
We’ve done every single thing we can.
Are there any demographics who are being hit by this disease harder than others?
At first, when I came to my assignment in New Jersey, I noticed a lot of the cases were overweight men, around 40 to 60 pounds overweight, with pre–existing health conditions like congestive heart failure, lung problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.
This virus has no audience that it targets more than the other. At first it seemed that way, but it doesn’t. It’s very scary.
How are you caring for yourself?
I’m a very active person. I’m a very diet-conscious person. I don’t starve myself or follow new fads. I eat healthy and very clean. It’s delicious, and my body feels so energetic. I barely get sick. Even when I do, I’m in bed for maybe half a day and then I’m great again.
Healthy living is so important.
If there are one or two learnings you want our country to take away from this pandemic, what would they be?
Your health does matter, and you must take care of yourself. People need to realize that the choices you make especially when you’re young are going to affect you 20, 30 years from now.
I hope after this we can be smart about hygiene and how important it is for keeping ourselves safe. I see a lot of media coverage of people wearing masks and gloves in grocery stores. I worry that people are misusing gloves and missing the basic principles of contamination. If a person goes to the grocery store, say they take a bag of chips down from an aisle. Then they touch their cart. How many people have touched that cart? Then they touch their card or their cash. They go back to their car and touch the handle. Then they take their groceries into their house all while wearing the same gloves. Then they put the chip bag on the counter and start eating them. They just had their gloved hands all over the bag. And suddenly they’re feeding themselves the virus from a dirty chip bag. We live in a country and we are fortunate enough to have education, to have access to clean water and soap. But we still ignore basic sanitary rules that we learned when we were children. I hope that this is a wake-up call for us all on how important those rules are.
What have you learned about the community in New Jersey?
There is a big misconception about the culture in New York and New Jersey. I try to tell people that you can talk to any New Yorker and you will be friends. You will leave the conversation knowing each other’s life story. They’re very straightforward and open people.
Every day a different restaurant or a different company gives food to the nurses for free. Whether we get a break or not, there’s a meal for us, to even take home for dinner. It is phenomenal to see. This community is struggling. They’re out of work, or running out of money, or they don’t have XY and Z available. But still businesses are going out of their way to help each other. They don’t have to do that. They could say no, we’re losing money. But the community is just so gracious.
It’s saddening that it’s taken a pandemic to see the community come together. Even with social distancing, people are stepping up and helping each other out. To me, that’s phenomenal to see.
Could you summarize your experience so far in a few sentences?
It’s been a tough couple weeks. I cried a lot two days ago and held many patients, so they didn’t have to die alone. But I still am very happy to come into work every single day and attempt to make a change in someone’s life and save someone even though we’ve had more deaths in successes in the ICU. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be and the outpouring love from the staff is amazing. They have thanked us a ton for helping by being here and are so appreciative. When we entered the floor the first day to meet everyone, they said they felt hopeful.
I hate what’s going on, but I know I’m where I’m meant to be.