Every day, there is a sadness in my heart for those coworkers that we have lost the fight against COVID-19. We are witness to so many lost lives, impossible decisions and such a vast unknown. But we are also empowered by the fact that our gloved hands will save a life, our masked faces will provide comfort in the worst moments, our words will make the hardest decisions just a little easier. We are so moved by the outpouring of support from New York City. The applause from balconies, the pizza deliveries, and the beautiful crayon art we receive are things we carry with us for a little light on a dark day, and a little strength when we might not feel like superheroes.
When the pandemic hit us in New York City, our Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) at Mount Sinai Queens, which consisted of 14 beds, was converted into a COVID-19 ICU unit within a week. Our roles transitioned overnight, and we had to step up to care for critically ill COVID-19 patients. One nurse cared for 2-3 patients who were on ventilator support and had 4-7 critical care drugs infusing, which required close monitoring.
Looking back over the last few months seems almost surreal. Our shifts changed, we had to adjust quickly to a high stress environment, patients dying, wearing full PPE and working with new team members we had never met before. Although, we had lost many patients to this virus we did have some whose conditions improved and they were eventually discharged from the inpatient units. One of the difficult and saddest moments for us was not being able to save everyone and losing our patients without their family members at the bedside. Despite all the anxiety and fear of the unknown our PACU team worked extremely hard caring for COVID-19 patients. We stood firm, worked together, and supported each other during these tough times. No matter how difficult the times were, we were able to overcome our fears and provide the best care to our patients. Nurses are indeed the heart of health care.
Tenzin Kunsang, RN
Long Island City, NY
As I approached the pandemic as an almost 18-year veteran in nursing, I felt prepared for the daily changes, struggles, and need to adapt to the information coming to us on the front lines. I knew I had to make sacrifices and raise my level of awareness caring for COVID-19 patients. I prepared a game plan of bringing clothes to change into after a shift just to drive home, I acquired a special laundry sanitizer to wash my scrubs in and prepared my family for the possibility that there may come a time when I could no longer be around them. The one thing I didn’t prepare for was the sheer helplessness and stress I felt as the mother of a young CNA working in the same facility with admitted COVID-19 patients.
She was in the middle of her first semester in nursing school when all this broke out. She had to quickly switch to being in school online and working during this pandemic. I watched in amazement as this 20-year-old woman pushed through her challenges and caring personally for positive and very sick patients. As a mother, I worry for her health, as a fellow care provider and nurse I am beyond proud. Gabrielle has stepped up and taken on challenging assignments of sitting in the rooms with positive patients for hours at time to ensure their safety. She has mastered the art of gowning up and gowning down. I see strength in the future of our nurses. The year of nurse has become an anthem for the work we are doing and still inspiring others to join the call when others run. I have faith that in the end it will be the nurses that prevail in this fight. I have never been prouder to be a nurse and the mother of a future nurse. A few days ago my daughter looked at me and said, “Mom, years from now I will tell my children that not only did I live during the pandemic, but I took care of the people that needed me most.”
Being on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic is a scary yet rewarding experience. Each day, I walk into work knowing that I will be in contact with people who have COVID-19, but, it is gratifying to be able to use my knowledge, skills, and compassion to help my patients on their journey through this scary unknown.
An experience I had with one patient really reminded me of how much of a difference I can make as a nurse. I was caring for a middle-aged man who was battling COVID-19. He was receiving a high dose of oxygen yet still not saturating well. When he was told that he might need to be intubated, I could see the fear in his eyes so, as we were preparing for the possible intubation, I did my best to comfort him. He asked me if he would die and, in that moment, I promised him that I would do everything I could as a nurse to help him and prevent that from happening. Those words helped to ease his anxiety and gave him faith and determination.
We were able to stabilize his oxygen level enough where we did not need to intubate him. He was so relieved. He thanked me and told me how much he appreciated everything I had done for him and the comfort and care I provided him.
In the end, I was privileged to be able to slowly wean him off oxygen and watch him recover. I was thrilled when I went into work one day and found out he had been discharged. This was a story with a happy ending that will always stay with me and remind me of the impact a compassionate and skilled nurse can have on someone.
Being a COVID nurse is challenging and rewarding at the same time. We are all learning how to cope with this virus every day. Reassuring our family members that we are taking precautions, that we are being safe. Reassuring our patients that they will get better and return to their families. Patients are becoming depressed as they must be away from their loved ones. Just spending an extra 10 minutes with them makes their day. Medical workers are the people they see every day, we are the only people they get to see and communicate with face to face. A nurse’s instinct is to be there for our patients and show them compassion. We want to make them feel like they are not alone during this tough situation. Knowing that I made my patient smile, knowing that I brightened up my patient’s day, knowing that my patient has recovered and is going home with their family makes me remember why I became a nurse.
We have all been through tough changes throughout this year. We have been challenged to find ways to adapt and fight the pandemic. The biggest lesson relies in discovering how strong we can be and how our collective efforts promote incredible outcomes.
I went into nursing practice close to 20 years ago, knowing fully the challenges that may arise. Despite the pandemic at this time, I would choose nursing all over again. We are called for moments as this.
During this pandemic, I have learned how to be a nurse to a patient who is completely isolated from the outside world and their loved ones. I have had to adapt my nursing skills and improvise day-to-day to ensure that I am caring for my patients the best I can while keeping myself, co-workers, and other patients safe. I have learned the value of simple things in life and the importance of love and compassion. And, sadly, I have learned firsthand that when you love someone, you tell them every chance you get, because you never know when you will not be able to speak to them again. I love you, Dad, and I hope I made you proud!
My story, like so many others, is filled with death, sadness, pain, hope, and love for one another. I hope it shows how much love is within us and through pain we can find kindness and strength from each other.
He’s a stranger. He’s my favorite … He’s old. Wrinkled. Italian. Gold chain around his neck. Gold wedding ring with diamonds. Gold pinky ring. Wavy white hair. And, of course, positive for COVID. He’s chosen to be a DNR. His family calls, they have that great New York Italian accent. We FaceTime on the iPad. It’s 10:30 a.m.
As much as I try to prepare them, they are shocked that someone who was talking last night can now only raise his eyebrows. They try to cheer him on, “You can do it, stay strong, keep breathing ….” I know the inevitable, but they are holding onto hope. They cry. His sons, daughters, grandchildren, call after call of hearts breaking. Every time I manage to make it through a call, but after I hang up and I’m alone with him, tears fall as I rub his arm or hold his hand so he knows I’m there.
My day goes by and I’m watching the inevitable. At 5:00 p.m. I take his blood pressure. It’s very low. I see how he’s breathing. He’s no longer responding to my voice or touch, so I get the family on FaceTime to make sure they get to see him before he passes. They ask me to call their priest. A prayer, a blessing, last rites. Sobbing family members on FaceTime as the priest asks me to make the sign of the cross as he says “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” I call his wife privately, put the phone up to his ear and tears just fall out of my eyes when I hear her saying goodbye in Italian, then she tells me to “let him rest.”
I can’t help but think he died right at the end of my shift so he was safe and not alone. His body will go with thousands of others but his love and life live on. I also maybe now have my special Italian guardian angel, wearing pinky rings and gold chains. We have all had our day of heartbreak. We all have our days of celebrations of thousands of discharges, but moments like this will live with me forever. I know when someone is with me they won’t be alone, I can comfort them, hold them. What an honor it is to be with someone during their last moments, to be everything they need one last time.
Renee Rhodes, RN
New York, NY
Social justice is the guiding philosophy behind my nursing career. At its core is one goal: to empower individuals to succeed independently of me. This evolving philosophy taught me that if I work hard enough, I can empower myself, my patients, and the profession of nursing. It drove me through some of my toughest shifts, professional practices, and experiences in my career.
I have a Bachelor’s degree from Case Western Reserve University and a Master’s from Yale. I am trained by the best, so that I can provide the best possible care to people who need it the most. This pandemic is what I have been trained for. When COVID-19 spread to the United States, I was the first in my practice to evaluate our need for PPE and train staff on appropriate procedures for testing patients in an outpatient setting. I saw what was happening around the world, how hospitals were overwhelmed, and I knew, as a primary care provider, I could take some of the burden off of the hospitals by providing in my own practice outpatient testing and caring for individuals who were positive but at lower risk of complications.
On the weekends, I volunteer with disaster relief services. We go to homeless encampments in Sacramento to educate individuals on COVID-19 prevention, conduct screenings, triage cases, and provide necessary care and supplies. This disease will most greatly affect the least among us. We cannot forget our most vulnerable populations: the homeless, the poor, the undocumented, the jailed. This is my mission.
Our picture illustrates that one of the strengths of our nursing profession is “TEAMWORK” in saving lives of veterans