By Carla Sieber (Zeta Xi, University of North Carolina at Greensboro)
Working in healthcare, I kept a close watch on the COVID-19 numbers worldwide. When the virus began to spread in the United States, New York City quickly became known as the epicenter. I knew I wanted to help. I live in Tampa, Florida and our numbers were low, a number so low that many healthcare workers, including nurses, were getting canceled from shifts daily. I knew that I had to go to NYC. It would let local nurses work more with me being off the schedule and allow me to help the people of NYC.
I found a travel company, and they deployed me within 48 hours of our first conversation. I arrived in NYC and went through a quick but thorough orientation. We learned the protocols used in caring for COVID patients at that hospital as well as the rules and regulations for personal protective equipment (PPE). I immediately started working. I had no idea what I was in for.
Every day I woke up a little earlier than I normally would so I could make sure I ate and drank plenty of water before I got to the hospital. The day can get so busy that you don’t know when you’ll get time to do this again. The shuttle took us from the hotel to our hospital. I got to the unit and put on my gear. I wore my surgical cap to keep my hair clean. My face was covered by an N95 mask, which was replaced every seven days or when dirty or damaged, followed by a surgical mask and then a face shield. We also wore shoe covers to limit contamination. We wore this all day long. We had enough gowns that we could wear a new one each time we went into a room.
I spent much of my assignment functioning as a team lead/charge nurse. I would do everything from helping implement daily patient tracking, admitting, discharging, taking care of a variety of patient care tasks and staffing. We had our own dedicated doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants on the unit, so I would often help them with things they needed to coordinate patient care. Honestly, the care of the patients would vary from day to day depending how sick the patients were. Every day was something new as the patients in my unit were all positive for COVID-19 and we were (and are) still learning so much about the virus.
When the day was over, we changed into a clean outfit to wear back to the hotel. We cleaned our face shield and placed our N95 in a brown paper bag to take back to reuse the next day. The shuttle picked us up outside the hospital to take us back to the hotel. I would leave my shoes in the hall and shower as soon as I got back. Then I would eat and go to bed so I could wake up and do it all over again. I worked 160 hours in the two weeks I spent in NYC.
Every day at 7 p.m. the people of NYC would clap, shout, cheer and thank all the essential workers and those who came to help. I cried every time. To me, I was just coming to do my job. I trained to be a nurse and have spent years becoming more knowledgeable as I have continued to practice in this part of medicine. I just wanted to be able to ease the burden of the staff who have become so overwhelmed by the number of patients due to one virus. This experience was a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime one. I met so many great people and learned so much about myself all while helping a community in need.