On a Wednesday in early April, I boarded a plane for New York City to work with COVID-19 patients. It had all happened so quickly.
I’m a nurse practitioner with a hospitalists group in Wichita, Kan., where, in early- to mid-April, the patient census in hospitals plummeted. Patients purposefully avoided the emergency room, and we didn’t accept elective surgeries.
I saw fewer patients than normal, and I wanted to use the skills God gave me where there was a greater need. So my coworker and I decided to go to NYC to help at a hospital within our company that was working almost exclusively with COVID-19 patients. The next day we flew to NYC.
In New York, I worked 15 consecutive shifts at Montefiore Hospital in Nyack, approximately 15 minutes from NYC. I arrived at the hospital at 7 a.m. and couldn’t leave until 7 p.m. I diagnosed and treated COVID-19 patients almost exclusively. If the hospital admitted the rare patient for something other than COVID-19, the patient ended up leaving with COVID-19.
The hospital lacked medical supplies and staff. Some staff members were getting sick; others had already been sick and come back. The ICUs held only intubated patients. All other patients remained on the medical floors in makeshift ICUs in surgery suites and surgery recovery rooms. The nurses on the unit I worked on saw 12 very critical patients apiece.
The first week, I felt very hopeless. My stress level soared. A lot of people were dying; some of them were young. Only four COVID-19 patients had been extubated (taken off of life support) successfully in the few weeks prior to my arrival. To give some perspective, the hospital used 50 ventilators during those weeks. Those aren’t very good odds. In fact, 88 percent of intubated patients at the hospital weren’t able to ever be successfully extubated. A truck in the parking lot serving as a morgue held approximately 50 bodies.
One of my first days, three of my patients crashed within two hours, meaning they were quickly deteriorating and needed immediate interventions. I made several difficult calls to distraught families who couldn’t be with their dying family members and could only talk to them over the phone. Several family members called me the “Angel from Kansas.”
The efforts I took to avoid COVID-19 made me feel paranoid and crazy, though it may have been what kept me from getting sick. If I dropped a pen, I sanitized it. I didn’t allow housekeepers into my hotel room. I used a disinfectant station at the entrance of my room to spray my shoes, masks, coats and pens. I didn’t eat anything the first five days aside from the free lunch at the hospital because I feared I’d somehow come into contact with the virus by going to the grocery store or getting delivery food. (My family later discovered this and mailed me several boxes of food.) I needed to stay healthy for my babies and husband at home.
I pushed myself through this misery every day by viewing it as a ministry. I would wake up and say, “I’m going to share Jesus today.” One patient was particularly difficult for me. His oxygen levels were very low. He was maxed out on oxygen and needed to be intubated, yet he retained the ability to talk to me throughout everything. I encouraged him to call his wife because the odds of him coming off the ventilator were very slim.
After they talked, I asked if he knew Jesus. He responded affirmatively and agreed when I asked if I could pray for him. As we pushed him down the hallway to get intubated, he shook my hand and said, “I’ll see you on the other side.” I shed several tears that day. Later, I learned one of the other nurses had heard me pray for him. I think that prayer touched more people than my patient. When I left NYC, this patient remained intubated. I don’t think he’s going to make it, but I’m confident I will see him again someday.
The second week helped my overall emotional and mental state as the number of patients decreased, people were being discharged and some patients didn’t have COVID-19. By the time I left New York, the number of people who were extubated had increased a lot. They played, “Here Comes the Sun” whenever someone was successfully extubated. The hospital celebrated its 300th COVID-19 discharge while I was there. However, they didn’t advertise the COVID-19 deaths at that point numbered more than 140.
I gratefully returned home, shedding many tears. My experience in New York helped me grow both professionally and spiritually. I talked to people in some of their most desperate days. God brought my coworker Amy with me for a reason. She is also a Christian, and she read devotionals and prayed each morning as I navigated the 10-minute drive from the hotel to the hospital. God knew I needed her in the midst of the craziness.
I think God is using this virus to help everyone focus on the more important things. We’re no longer putting our time and attention on restaurants, salons, money and entertainment. We’re staying home with our families. We’re being creative again. We’re teaching our children life lessons.
This virus humbles us because no one is an exception. It affects young people who have no past medical disease and are healthy and fit. It makes us put our faith in God instead of medicine or science because this virus is such a mystery.
Jessica Schroeder is a nurse practitioner in Wichita, Kan., where she attends First MB Church. She was raised in Hillsboro, Kan., and met her husband at Tabor College. Jessica and her husband have two girls, Charli (3) and Harper (almost 1). In her spare time, she enjoys working out, gardening, playing sports, DIYing and drawing/painting.