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An Air Force Nurse Deployed to NYC Hospitals: ‘It Feels Like a Warzone’


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In April, as New York City emerged because the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. navy deployed 720 troops to work within the metropolis’s overburdened medical facilities. One such service member is 36-year-old Rosa Blackdeer, a registered nurse and First Lieutenant within the Air Force Reserves, who left her household behind in Wisconsin to serve at Lincoln Medical Center, a public hospital within the Bronx that’s residence to the busiest emergency division in NYC. Here is her story, advised in her personal phrases:

New York City was speculated to be the vacation spot of our household summer season trip this 12 months. I arrived on April 5. My unit is staying at a resort in Times Square. I’ve by no means been right here earlier than, however from watching films and TV exhibits, I do know what it’s speculated to appear like, and it’s loopy to see every little thing empty. It’s like a Walking Dead episode.

My alarm goes off at 5 a.m. I warmth up oatmeal in my microwave for breakfast. I bought one for my room as a result of in any other case there’s just one microwave for like 20 flooring. Then, I make a sack lunch: a sandwich, an apple, and a few grapes. I don’t need to eat or prep meals anyplace else however right here.

Then, I get my scrubs on and pack a bag with my nursing sneakers, goggles, booties, head cowl, and my N95, which I carry in a Tupperware container. We’re capable of get 4 N95s per individual at a time; we quantity them and rotate via them, letting them airdry to kill the virus between wears. I grasp mine on little plastic hooks I caught to the again of my resort room door. I put on one surgical masks after I depart my room and take an additional; we put on them on high of our N95s all day. Sometimes the hospital has them, however proper now we’re getting them from the navy. We meet downstairs as soon as every week and our supervisor arms us the masks we’d like for the week. I want I had an entire field of them. We’ve additionally had our households and hospitals again residence ship us provides. But in any other case we’ve been googling stuff to purchase on-line, similar to everyone else.

Rosa Blackdeer packs her lunch for the day.

Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force/Army Corporal Rachel Thicklin

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N95 masks hanging in Blackdeer’s resort room.

Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force/Army Corporal Rachel Thicklin

At 5:45 a.m. I meet my buddy, a lady from my unit named Kristy, and we stroll to the Javits Center collectively to catch a bus to the hospital. It’s darkish and chilly strolling there and also you by no means know what you’re going to seek out. One day there was a giant pile of human feces on the sidewalk and I used to be like, Oh, that’s nice. Welcome to New York.

My husband was within the navy for eight years, so he is aware of what it looks like when orders come down. I advised him I needed to depart within the morning and at first he was like, “What?!” But then he stated, “Okay.” My husband works at a gymnasium as a private coach, however he bought laid off due to Covid; we now have two children, ages 13 and 14, and a foster youngster, a five-year-old that we simply bought in August. When I deployed previously, my children had been infants and didn’t know. They simply thought, Mommy has gone away. But now, it’s a really completely different expertise as a result of they’re like, “Wait. Hold on. You’re going to Ground Zero?” So, it’s more durable on them, however I believe the children had been largely involved that “Dad only makes us pizza.” But I advised them they’d be fantastic, and I’m very happy with my husband—he’s doing fairly good.

When we board the bus, everyone seems to be like, “Ready to do this?” and we’re like, “Yeah, here we go again.” We take two buses so everybody will get their very own seat, for security. Before I get off the bus, I put my N95 on as a result of generally there are sufferers or homeless individuals ready close to the hospital entrance. I don’t wish to put my N95 on any before I’ve to, although, as a result of my nostril is fairly tousled from it—irritated, purple, and sore. Sometimes I need to put a Band-Aid on it, however I’m additionally scared. Is it going to mess up the seal?

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Thank you playing cards hanging in Blackdeer’s resort room.

Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force/Army Corporal Rachel Thicklin

We get to Lincoln round 6:40 a.m. The hospital seems to be so dreary after we’re strolling in. After I’m inside, the primary hand sanitizer dispenser I get to is empty.

I’m engaged on a flooring that was created possibly two days earlier than I bought right here. It’s the third new unit the hospital has created to deal with Covid-19 sufferers. We’re making an attempt to do our greatest, however the flooring was a clinic and actually wasn’t created for in-patient care, so we’re operating backwards and forwards always looking for every little thing we’d like. I’m sometimes assigned to 4 sufferers and there are about 25 in complete, which is numerous sufferers for a unit that shouldn’t actually exist.

“In warfare, you possibly can inform who the enemy is—right here, you possibly can’t see it.”

Ninety-five p.c of my sufferers have examined optimistic for Covid-19. There are about 35 individuals from my unit that bought despatched to Lincoln and nobody has come down with signs but, in order that’s good. But it’s onerous too as a result of we’re placing ourselves on the entrance line and the enemy is invisible. In warfare, you possibly can inform who the enemy is—right here, you possibly can’t see it. It’s like, did I contact one thing improper? Did I put masks on in another way? The nervousness that comes with that’s onerous. Once, somebody coughed in my face and I believed I felt it undergo my goggles. The psychological drainage is intense, like, Oh my god, I hope I didn’t simply get it.We’re all scared. We see who this virus is affecting—younger or outdated, it doesn’t matter. I come to work daily and I don’t know if that’s the day I’m going to get it or not.

I eat my lunch within the breakroom, nevertheless it simply doesn’t look clear. The desk is sticky so I at all times convey my very own Clorox wipes to wipe every little thing down earlier than I eat. I don’t really feel prefer it’s actually a break as a result of I’ve to concentrate, like, oh my god, did I contact one thing?

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Blackdeer boarding a bus to Lincoln early within the morning.

Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force/Army Corporal Rachel Thicklin

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Blackdeer places on her PPE for the day.

Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force/Army Corporal Rachel Thicklin

I used to be stationed in Balad, Iraq in 2009 for six months. Back then, I used to be a med tech and we did numerous affected person transfers to hospitals in Germany and elsewhere. We had busy days—generally we moved like 50 sufferers an evening, busting our butts, carrying 200-plus pound guys—nevertheless it’s positively a unique busy right here as a result of our sufferers decline so rapidly. One minute they’re respiration nicely after which unexpectedly it’s like, Oh my god, what simply occurred? Supply-wise, it’s the identical. We at all times have points with provides, so I’m used to being inventive. We name it MacGyver nursing.

The work hits me more durable right here as a result of it’s proper on our personal soil. At least after I’m in a warfare, I do know everybody there signed on the dotted line saying they’re going to struggle for our nation. You’re anticipating mass casualties and our bodies to be coming in as a result of that’s the surroundings you’re in. You don’t count on that if you’re stateside. I’m treating civilians who could possibly be my household. In reality, most nurses on my flooring are from New York, so that is their residence and they’re shedding relations. Nurses have died who had been working at Lincoln. It positively looks like I’m in a warzone generally.

One that hit me onerous was a 94-year-old girl. We knew she wasn’t going to make it. Some individuals say it’s simpler when it’s an older individual, nevertheless it’s nonetheless onerous, particularly now after they don’t have household with them. We had been making an attempt to speak to her each probability we bought. I’d discuss to her concerning the climate and maintain her hand if I had time. When she began to go, I needed to run and get the physician to see if there was anything we should always do. I needed to depart, however I didn’t need her to die by herself. So as I used to be operating out the door, I stated to a colleague, “Please, just go in there and hold her hand.” Nobody ought to die by themselves.

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Blackdeer getting her affected person assignments for the day.

Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force/Army Corporal Rachel Thicklin

I’m a supervisor on the hospital the place I work in Wisconsin. Before I left residence, 11 individuals had examined optimistic for Covid-19 in our little small city of about 3,000 individuals. I advised everyone, “Hey, we’re going to make it through. The need is greater somewhere else.”

The deaths actually weighed on the members of my unit after we first bought right here. We’re not used to seeing so many. What we determined to do is, every time we now have a demise, no matter how busy we’re, all of us get collectively in that room and we are saying thanks to the workforce. “Thank you for doing your part. Regardless of what happened, we know you did your best to keep them alive.” We had been there for these sufferers even when their households couldn’t be and it’s necessary to acknowledge that. We have a second of silence, after which we transfer on with our days.

“At least after I’m in a warfare, I do know everybody there signed on the dotted line saying they’re going to struggle for our nation.”

Sometimes you could have sufferers who you don’t assume are going to make it, they usually do. One time I had a affected person who was 68 or 69 years outdated with three or 4 comorbidities and I actually didn’t assume she was going to drag via. She had a excessive fever for 2 days and I had icepacks on her all over the place, nevertheless it was attending to the purpose the place there was nothing I might do to make her extra comfy. I felt actually defeated as a result of often there’s at all times one thing else you are able to do. Every time I’d go into her room, it was horrible as a result of she’d be like, “Just let me die. I can’t do this anymore.” I used to be like, “No, you possibly can. We’re going to strive our greatest to make it via this.” She’s like, “No, simply let me die.” And I’m like, “Yes, we will. We’re sturdy.”

When I got here again to work for my subsequent shift a couple of days later, she was doing a lot better. Her fever was decrease, she was speaking extra and even laughing. She wasn’t my affected person anymore, however you get used to those sufferers when you could have them for some time. Not to say they’re household, however you could have a connection. So I used to be nonetheless checking on her. I requested her if she knew who I used to be as a result of generally sufferers with excessive fevers don’t bear in mind issues. She was like, “Yeah, didn’t I tell you to let me die?” And I’m like, “Yeah, aren’t you glad I didn’t listen to you?” She’s like, “Oh yes,” chuckling. She stated she couldn’t imagine she made it via. She was ultimately capable of go residence. I actually didn’t know if she was going to be a hit story or not, however she made it. I used to be like, you’ve got to be kidding me—I used to be so glad.

We bought to see one in every of our sufferers get extubated the opposite day, which was a giant deal as a result of not too many sufferers who get intubated survive. He was solely 37. It takes some time for all the treatment to put on off within the physique. It was a tough few days, however he got here again little by little. He even walked to the wheelchair by himself when it was lastly time for him to be discharged. We bought him a card and a few balloons, and we bought ourselves some little pompoms and lined up on both facet of the hallway to cheer for him as he was wheeled out. We had been so excited for him to go residence. Anytime our sufferers are wanting higher from at some point to a different, we get so glad. You would assume you’re giving us sweet.

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Blackdeer throws out her PPE on the finish of the day.

Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force/Army Corporal Rachel Thicklin

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Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force/Army Corporal Rachel Thicklin

Quite a lot of issues that ought to be straightforward take longer right here. The pharmacy is so overwhelmed that it could take over three hours to get medicines. Some of my sufferers weren’t getting their morning meds till virtually midday. It’s onerous to work at a giant hospital interval, not to mention at a giant hospital with three new items of sufferers and the identical variety of pharmacists.

Another concern is we aren’t allowed to put on stethoscopes due to the dangers of contamination. Every affected person is meant to have one of their rooms, however that’s not at all times true and it’s actually onerous to do my job with out one. I’ve to ask, “How do you think you’re breathing? Do you feel like it’s getting better?” I really feel defeated as a result of I don’t at all times have what I want to assist somebody. It’s onerous to not take that feeling with you. Even if you’ve carried out every little thing potential, it sucks generally as a result of you understand you may have carried out higher if you happen to had the precise provides.

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Blackdeer prepares medicines for her sufferers.

Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force/Army Corporal Rachel Thicklin

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Blackdeer will get provides from a storage room.

Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force/Army Corporal Rachel Thicklin

I hand off my sufferers round 6:40 p.m. and prepare to move again to my resort. Once we’re on the bus, we’re all speaking about what to order for dinner and texting with our colleagues again on the resort. The members of our unit who’ve the break day are answerable for ordering for the group every day—that’s how we care for one another.

When I get to my room, I take my sneakers off and my different sneakers out of my bag and spray each with Lysol and depart them within the hallway. Then I take a Clorox wipe to open and shut the door. I take off my scrubs off—I’ve a laundry bag proper by the door to place them in—and grasp my N95 masks as much as dry. Then, I’m going to the sink, wash my arms, and get within the bathe.

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Blackdeer and her colleagues eat dinner collectively within the resort hallway.

Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force/Army Corporal Rachel Thicklin

By the time I’m clear, the pizza has arrived and my unit has arrange a buffet within the hallway for household dinner. We Lysol the ground earlier than we sit down and take a look at to not contact something. We’re like, eww, however sitting on the ground within the corridor to have dinner collectively remains to be higher than consuming alone. We vent; we discuss concerning the good and dangerous components of our days. We comprehend it’s not good to maintain all of it in, so it’s like our household remedy. We give solely a lot time to vent, after which we’re like “No more work talk!” And then we shift to our youngsters and spouses, or what we’d do on a break day. One evening we did sheet masks after dinner.

“We walked into the worst factor any of us have ever seen within the United States.”

Sometimes, we’re speechless. We walked into the worst factor any of us have ever seen within the United States. Every day, you’re simply going, going, going, and never seeing sufferers get higher. The first weeks we had been right here, there wasn’t a day that when by that we didn’t have a demise on the ground. One day we ran out of physique baggage. Another day there wasn’t anybody obtainable to come back choose up the deceased, so we had a useless physique in a affected person room subsequent to a dwell affected person for like six to eight hours. We’re similar to, “This sucks!” There’s nothing else to say.

After I bought my orders to go to New York again in April, I went to Walmart and acquired what I believed I would wish: Lysol spray, disinfecting wipes, and many others. I additionally purchased a pinata and a few sweet. When I bought residence, my children helped me pack—I made a guidelines so everybody could possibly be concerned. And then we went exterior and hit the heck out of a pinata and celebrated everybody’s birthday, so I wouldn’t miss them.

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At the tip of the day, Blackdeer’s face is marked with impressions from the N95 masks.

Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force/Army Corporal Rachel Thicklin

In these first weeks, after work, I got here into my room and cried within the bathe. I cried once more whereas speaking to my husband. And then you definately simply get up the subsequent morning and do all of it once more. I by no means thought in my entire profession that I’d see one thing like this. When I discuss to my nurses again residence they usually ask the way it’s going, I’m like, “I would not want this on my worst enemy.” I hope I by no means need to take care of one thing like this once more.

Deputy Editor
Kayla Webley Adler is the Deputy Editor of ELLE journal, the place she edits narrative options on politics, tradition, crime, and social traits, in addition to superstar cowl tales and profiles of newsworthy girls.

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