Local medical professionals serve in New York

Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Cheryl Webb, a local nurse at Cox Monett, is working for 21 days in New York City hospitals to provide relief for the overworked healthcare systems. Contributed photo

Cox Monett staff on front lines of coronavirus pandemic

On April 13, local nurse Cheryl Webb boarded a plane for New York City, the United States’ COVID-19 (coronavirus) hot zone, to help care for those sick from the pandemic.

With more confirmed coronavirus patients than anywhere else in the world, the essential medical workers have been strained by long hours, and many of them have also contracted the virus.

When the call was put out for relief workers, Webb, a registered nurse at Cox Monett since 2004, struggled with the decision to go sign up.

“This was not an easy decision,” she said. “I backed out at the first opportunity. I felt so bad thinking I may be putting others at risk, leaving my coworkers behind. But I felt like God kept calling me telling me this is where He wants me. 

“The extra week allowed me to get things in order. I was able to get my shifts covered for five weeks, thanks to my amazing coworkers and bosses. My husband and I had time to go purchase a camper where I will live for two weeks after I get home.”

Webb said her ultimate decision hinged on thinking about the patients in the hospitals with no one allowed to visit them and how sad and lonely that would be.  

“I really wanted to be a ray of sunshine for them and let them know even though we may not be blood related we are all in this together and here for them to comfort, cry and pray,” she said.

Signing up with the disaster nursing agency, Webb committed to working 21 consecutive days for 12-hour shifts in the New York area. After a brief orientation and setting up her new home in a hotel room, Webb was assigned a position at Woodhull Medical Center in Brooklyn. She had been warned in training to “imagine your worst shift ever and multiply that by ten.”

After her first few days working in Brooklyn, Webb gathered a host of observations.

“It is a very sad humanity crisis,” she said. “I have been in my hospital for only two days and have listened to approximately 13 codes called overhead and a few more rapid responses. The charge nurse today was telling me about Easter Sunday. She said it was so bad on her floor they were just running from one end of her floor to another with the code cart. At the end of her shift, she went straight out to the cross and knelt and cried.

“Patients sit in their rooms alone — scared and alone. A patient told me, ‘Please help me. I don’t want to be one of those codes they announce overhead.’”

When asked about access to medical resources, Webb said there are personal protective equipment, but not like it should be in the United States of America.

“Normally, we would wear one mask per patient,” she said. “Now, I can request one about every four days. We do get one gown for every time I enter the room, which is great. Most all of the patients in the ICUs are on ventilators, and even some of the regular floor patients. Most of the vents I see are the small, travel-type vents.”

After her fourth day of work Webb said flexibility is the name of her game.

“New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had all hospitals double their ICU capacity, and they are all full all the time. It’s sad the hospital stopped playing the fun music overhead when something positive happened, like when a patient with COVID was extubated — that doesn’t happen often — or discharged.

“I don’t know why they aren’t anymore, but the staff so enjoyed it. You could just see the joy in their faces that there was finally a positive.”

Seeing the crisis first-hand and hearing directly from those who’ve been on the ground for weeks has revealed the tragedy of the pandemic.

“They have dealt with so much death,” Webb said. “They are out of toe tags and were out of body bags. They had two freezer trucks for bodies and had to add a third at one of the other nurses’ Brooklyn hospital.”

As of April 19, the United States had more than 750,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Nearly 250,000 are in New York. More than 85,000 are in New Jersey. In the two states combined, more than 22,000 people have died. Through all of this sadness, Webb said she has found some positive moments.

“This particular unit has Navy nurses deployed there to assist us,” she said. “They were the most kind, helpful and smartest nurses I have worked with.  Contrary to popular belief, everyone in New York has been so nice. We get breakfast and lunches at the hospital every day it seems from local restaurants wanting to say thank you.”

With all the suffering she’s witnessed, Webb urged those everyone back home to be safe.

“I’m sitting here watching the news of protests to open up,” she said “I just hope people realize what’s happening in New York is not being made up by the news.”

Grateful for the support she’s received from home, Webb said she loves all of the encouraging words and messages from home.

“I feel the love and send it right back,” she said.

As for the workers in in the New York area, Webb asked that everyone back home.

“Please be praying for the patients, their families who do not know what’s going on, and the staff who have been dealing with this for weeks,” she said. They’re exhausted.”

Also helping in the crisis is Dr. Erik Martin, emergency physician at Cox Monett. His assessments, delivered in a Facebook post on Saturday, detail dire situations fro some families.

“Yesterday was a difficult day for me in the ER at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn,” he said. “The morning wasn't particularly busy. The residents there have come up with a way to use iPads to connect patients with their families who can't come visit them at the bedside anymore because of COVID.

“So, in the past two days, I've connected three different dying patients using iPads so their families could at least see them in their final moments. This was hard, but I felt like it was something good we could do for them. To give the families some closure. To use technology to try to bring loved ones together during their final moments.”

Martin said even though the surge of positives is slowing, there are still new sick patients coming in, including a 21-year-old with respiratory failure and two patients in their 40s who were intubated and would likely die alone on ventilators in the ICU.

“One of them was a lady in her 40s,” Martin said. “She was doing OK initially, on an oxygen mask. She felt a little better after getting some oxygen. I liked how she said my name, ‘Doctor Martin,’ with her Russian accent. She said she wanted to go home. I smiled and told her she shouldn't go home yet. She felt cold so I brought her a blanket. She wanted water so I got her a drink.

“She started getting more anxious. We gave her some medicine to help her feel less anxious, but it didn't help. She kept getting more anxious, more agitated. She was experiencing what we call Air Hunger in medicine. As your body strives to get more air, you become more anxious. I could see the terror growing in her eyes. Her lungs were getting worse.”

Martin said the patient went from the oxygen mask and wanting a blanket and water to needing a higher level of oxygen support, needing BiPAP and to complete lung failure in just a few hours.

“Her oxygenation worsened and there was nothing I could do to help her,” he said. “She was no longer joking, no longer asking for water. She could no longer even talk. She became increasingly obtunded as her body could no longer keep up with her increased respiratory demand.

“I intubated her and put her on a ventilator. She will probably die on the ventilator. Most of the people put on ventilators with COVID die. She was not very old, only in her 40s.”

Martin said coronavirus does not discriminate, infecting all races and ethnicities.

“In just one week, I have seen everyone with the virus,” he said. “We are all human — that's all the virus knows. We are the host in which it reproduces itself and spreads itself to others.”

Martin said the virus will not go away.

“We will flatten the curve, the surge will go down and they will reopen the country at least to a limited extent,” he said. “But the virus will still be here. As long as it lives in some human somewhere, it will spread again. This will be a prolonged struggle. Do not expect that your life will be normal again in one to two months when we reopen the country.

“Everything will be different until we beat the virus. Our only hope is a vaccine.”

Martin said he plans to send more updates while he is in Brooklyn, and he urged people to stay safe.

“Protect those around you who are vulnerable, especially the elderly and those with chronic diseases,” he said. “To my family. I love you and miss you.”

Cox officials said the system is proud to have employees like Webb and Martin serving in such ways.

“CoxHealth is grateful for the brave individuals who work within the system,” said Janell Patton, community relations manager, marketing and planning with Cox Monett. “We are impressed by their spirit, dedication, and desire to help in places and times of crisis. We also see those qualities in the many others who have stayed at home, ready to serve patients in our communities.”

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