Having taken a tow-year hiatus from ICU nursing, it was a bit of an adjustment getting back into the flow of this specialized field — especially walking into a foreign environment and treating a strange disease I had never seen before. In Ohio, I worked in a Level 1 trauma intensive care unit at Grant Medical Center; this experience prepared me to care for extraordinarily sick COVID-19 patients. I had never worked in such a difficult environment; it was challenging to see a disease destroy patient's bodies and not have legitimate ways of treating them. As a nurse, I so deeply desire to help people and see them to recovery, something that has hardly been happening in the face of COVID-19.
As March turned into April, a sense of discontentedness steadily grew within me. My husband, Taylor, and I were living in central Virginia, and I was working as an Anesthesia Pre-Op nurse. Prior to the two years we spent in Virginia, we had been in Hawaii and Ohio, were I had gained three years of experience as an intensive care unit nurse. COVID-19 rattled Virginia, causing all of our elective surgeries to be cancelled, and my job to be uncomfortably slow. I was hardly being utilized, while watching with the nation the horror of COVID sweeping across New York City. The message was clear: ICU nurses were desperately needed.
As a nurse, I so deeply desire to help people and see them to recovery, something that has hardly been happening in the face of COVID-19.
After careful thought and prayer, Taylor and I decided to move to NYC for COVID ICU relief. I quit my job and said a quick goodbye to my beloved coworkers, friends, and family. I rallied the troops, getting Tom Huling, a dear friend and fellow ICU nurse from Ohio to travel with us and join in the mission, as well Emily Chafins, a physician assistant student and close friend to come volunteer for a few weeks in NYC, It was a whirlwind of a week quitting a job, getting our home ready to leave for a few months, saying many bittersweet goodbyes, and pausing the clinical side of my nurse practitioner education which I wasclose to completing. On Good Friday our crew gathered set sail for New York City. That's right, we literally set sail.
Taylor and I are the fortunate owners of Sailing Vessel Turning Points, a 50' Beneteau Cyclades. Our decision to sail to NYC stemmed from our love for sailing, passion for adventure, a desire to have our own space (both for cleanliness and comfort sake), and to utilize the resources we already have. It seemed rather silly to leave both a house and a yacht behind, so we brought our home on the water which allowed us the space to host the rest of our crew. With the gracious help of the NYC sailing community, we were received as guests by ONE15 Brooklyn Marina for our eight week contract at NYU Langone Brooklyn Hospital. Tom and I traveled with Fusion Medical Staffing, and our recruiter, Pat Overby, pioneered the way for us to get to NYC.
The message was clear: ICU nurses were desperately needed.
At the peak of COVID, the hospital had nearly quadrupled their number of ICU beds due to patient demand. I vividly remember walking into the hospital for the first time and being greeted by three large tractor trailer morgue trucks outside, which I later found out were full. Recovery rooms, medical-surgical nursing (medsurg) flours floors underwent transformation into a temporary intensive care unit. This is why the hospital so desperately needed a plethora of ICU nursing staff to come in to help and take care of the patients that filled these beds.
Thus, Tom and I came with an influx of travel ICU nurses. Not only were the units we were working not intended to be ICUs, but they were staffed by travel nurses who were stranger to the hospital and health system at large. All that being said, each day in an NYC hospital in the middle of COVID was purely unpredictable. In the peak it felt like a chaotic war, like a free for all. We didn't sit down for twelve hours and were lucky if we had a chance to drink water or eat a snack. Our full PPE was worn for 12 hours straight- that includes surgical scrubs, gown, gloves, hair cover, face shield, N95 mask, and surgical mask. It was entirely uncomfortable, however focusing on saving lives, and was a distraction from the difficulty breathing through a week old mask, or straps rubbing my face raw, and sweat pouring down my gowned body. Honestly, it is a relief now to go to work and only have to wear a surgical mask for 12 hours straight, it comparatively feels like facial freedom. To think beyond ourselves for others has been a great reprieve.
Each day in an NYC hospital in the middle of COVID was purely unpredictable. It felt like a chaotic war, like a free for all.
However by mid May, the crazy calmed down significantly. It is a relief to go to work now and only have to wear a surgical mask for 12 hours straight — it feels like facial freedom. To think beyond ourselves for others has been a great reprieve. This is why, amongst many other reasons, it may cause particular angst in a healthcare professional to see the flagrant refusal of people wearing masks in public. We truly believe it is for the good of others to avoid an unnecessary and unknowing spread infection, as well as to protect the weak and vulnerable. Yes, it requires a small amount of personal sacrifice and comfort. Yet it doesn't compare to what the medical front liners must sacrifice as a result of said spread.
WRITTEN BYRachel Hartley