I’ve thought a lot about those on the frontlines battling COVID-19. Much like those who enlist in the military during times of peace, I’ve wondered if these nurses and doctors ever considered that they might be called upon to battle a pandemic. But that is exactly what has happened in the midst of COVID-19. I’ve admired their bravery as they willingly walk into a life-threatening situation in hopes of saving the lives of others.
This became very real to me when my friend Leandrew Tirrell, a nurse who typically works in Salt Lake City, Utah, wrote a post on Facebook about his experience volunteering to help in New York City. We think of these people as seemingly faceless names until you recognize the face in the picture and until you think that just weeks ago, you were laughing and joking with that person with no idea of what lay ahead. And I guess that’s always true. We never know what tomorrow holds but, in this situation, there are men and women valiantly walking in while the rest of us are being asked to do our part by simply staying in our homes. May we show our gratitude for their sacrifice and may we remember them all in our prayers.
Leandrew’s experience is shared below with permission:
Last week I flew to New York City to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Since then, I have had many people reach out to me wanting to know about my experience. I have gone back and forth trying to decide what to share. I don’t want to add to the fear/hysteria because there is already enough of that. With that said, this is unlike anything I have seen in my nursing career. Arriving in New York was surreal. My ride from the airport to Times Square took under 20 minutes. The streets, store fronts, and restaurants were nearly completely vacant. Checking in with my agency, I was told that I was effectively on-call. I assumed that meant I would be working within 24 hrs. Surprisingly, the call was slow to come. The staffing office was overwhelmed trying to process the large influx of new nurses. For the first few days I walked around Manhattan trying to relieve my mounting anxiety. I was frustrated by the wait, but if I am being 100% honest, a part of me was relieved. I could tell by the distraught look on the nurse’s faces as they returned from the front lines that this was going to be rough. Finally, the call came and I was assigned to the night shift at a midsize hospital. The group I started with is made up of 20 nurses. We reinforced a group of 30 nurses that had arrived the previous week. Our arrival brought big smiles to our colleagues’ faces. They had been severely short-handed and run ragged. My unit is a surgical center that has been converted into an ICU. To say it’s a disorganized disaster might be an understatement. It is fitting that I was there for Easter because each day feels like a treasure hunt. I am constantly searching for pillows, sheets, pumps, tubing, and medications. The conditions here have forced me to add some new skills to the resume. With the pharmacist and respiratory therapist stretched thin, nurses mix their own medications and manage the ventilators. The work is physically and emotionally taxing. My day starts at 7 p.m. when we load the bus and ends at 9 a.m. when we return to the hotel. Having worked in an ICU for 10 years I am no stranger to death, yet this feels different. Unfortunately, my unit has lost substantially more people than we have recovered. The consistency of loss is demoralizing. It is particularly sad because our patients die without having loved ones at their side. I feel an additional weight wondering if under more optimal conditions things might be different. Despite the difficulty of these circumstances there is a lot to be thankful for: -The past few days seem to have marked a turning point in hospital admissions and yesterday we successfully extubated 3 patients! -The crew I am working with is outstanding. Its incredible to think that a group of complete strangers, from different backgrounds could come together, and work so seamlessly as a team. The systems/equipment/charting are foreign to us and we were not given time to onboard. Fortunately, collectively we are able to figure things out as we draw from our different strengths. I have been the recipient of so much love/kindness/generosity. -A friend asked, what would make this easier on you? I half-jokingly replied, a fridge and air fryer would be great. Apparently, some calls were made by the local Relief Society president and within a day a cooler and air fryer were sent. -The community has rallied behind us. Every night as our bus pulls into the hospital we are greeted with cheers, honking horns, and flashing lights. Local restaurants have donated food and the hotel lobby has a several tables filled with donated treats. -My manager was supportive of me coming here despite little notice and my co-workers have helped cover my shifts. -I have received many calls/messages from friends and family offering words of encouragement. I can’t tell you how much that lifts me up. Thank you for the reminder that we are in this together!