At the heart of New York

During this month, we look back at a year of grave consequences. It is the one year anniversary of COVID-19 here in New York City, the epicenter of the epicenter, a designation as somber as any could be.

Our experience was not unique. Hospitals across the state endured similar fates: very sick patients and overwhelmed nurses, doctors and other caregivers.

To say our members went to work every day knowing the COVID conditions were unchanged, putting yourselves in harm’s deadly way, fearing the consequences of going home after your shift with the dreaded worry of infecting family, and that you continue to work with many of these conditions, just begins to tell your story of fighting one of the worst pandemics in world history.

Holding it together

You have been at the heart of holding New York together. We simply would not have survived without your determination to give care at any cost.

Without your commitment to patients, families and community, the toll of death and sickness would be far greater. As it is, these numbers are massive. Still, you helped save more than 150,000 New Yorkers, and that number goes up with every patient on every shift.

Only you understand fully the extraordinary role you have played in treating patients afflicted with the virus, and the daily experience of dealing with death day after day. Here are stories of NYSNA members, like you, thrust into COVID care at the height of the nightmare last year.

Aja Sciortino, RN, works in the Peds ICU at Westchester Medical Center, a public facility that takes patients in large numbers from surrounding counties. Aja has worked at WMC for seven years. When COVID-19 struck, she was floated to adult units. Understaffing was serious. “It was rough,” she recounts. Nurses “felt very worn-down.” The attention each COVID patient required was extensive. “We spent hours with patients.” Often she stayed hours past the shift change, working close to midnight.

The “burn out” was very real and some senior nurses left, she recalls, without any animosity. Her commitment to fighting the virus never wavered.

Conquering fear

Sandra Armstrong, RN, has given 32 years to patient care, 27 of those at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream/Northwell. An orthopedic/general surgery OR nurse, Sandra was floated to a MedSurg floor when the virus swept into the hospital.

She recalls a “fear of the unknown,” in and of itself a source of terrible stress. Understaffing was very bad. She was feeding and bathing patients.

This was the very stark reality for patients: “some did not make it.” The patient death toll was high.

There was a common refrain from nurses and healthcare workers present during the worst of the pandemic, never having before experienced patient deaths mounting so fast in such large numbers. “I cried when I got home,” says Sandra. “The patients had no one to console them. It’s so sad that they died alone.”

The understaffing was unrelenting, adding to the frenzy many of you faced every day.

Staffing the ER when COVID hit, ER nurse Kelley Cabrera of Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx knew that frenzy well. “When I reflect on the last year, I feel tremendous pride for all the work we did at Jacobi,” she recalls. “Despite all the loss, the grief, and the frustration, we continued to fight for improved working conditions. Nothing got in the way of us coming to work and caring for our patients. And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. I am proud to be a Jacobi nurse and work alongside such brave and incredible nurses who will always fight for a just and equitable system for all,” says Kelley.

For Fred Durocher, a nurse for 25 years at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, he still remembers arriving for his ER shift in mid-March, one year ago. “We didn’t know what to expect, this COVID pandemic was turning everything upside down. I was amazed to see experienced ER nurses ‘shaken’ after a particularly critical patient.

“To see these ER nurses in that condition, with every day bringing something new, and practices we had for years, all changing daily—I never experienced anything like it.”

Like all nurses, Fred wore a mask meant to be disposed of, only to be told that the N-95s were then sent in paper bags to be ‘cleansed.’ “This year was something I will never forget and will always be proud for all my fellow nurses being on the frontline.”

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