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 In HearSway

Pinecrest graduate Kara Ferguson has been a nurse for almost 2 years, getting her start at FirstHealth before moving to Kentucky with her husband. When the coronavirus outbreak led to the cancellation of many elective procedures, Kara was laid off from her job at a plastic surgery center. She then took the chance to work on the front lines in New York City.

Her answers to the questions below have been edited for length and clarity.

Kara in a near-deserted Times Square | image courtesy of Kara Ferguson

How Did You Get to NYC?

A friend of mine who was a nurse sent me a screenshot of the opportunity. It was a 21-day deployment, and you had to be ready to leave immediately. My first reaction was like just do it — having been temporarily laid off, having the freedom and not having kids, I felt like it was my duty as a nurse to use my skills and talents.  

I saw that post on Wednesday, had a call on Friday, and I was in NYC on Monday.  You didn’t have a lot of time to think about it. You either dialed the number or chickened out.  

They put us up in a hotel in Times Square. We got COVID-19 training and a really scary speech about what to expect. I wondered if was blown out of proportion. It wasn’t.

What is the Environment Like at Your Hospital?  

I’m at makeshift hospital, for people who come from larger hospitals and are considered COVID overflow. Every single one of my patients is COVID positive. There are 27 patients on my floor, and my workload is between 5-10 patients depending on the day and nurses available. The good thing is that the patients are stable enough to not need a ventilator or I.V. drip medications. The bad thing is that if those resources are needed, we have to transfer them to a different facility.

This hospital has been closed for years and years and they renovated it for a week and made do with what they had. It’s a very very old facility and a sad environment for the patients. You have multiple patients in each really small room, and they are not allowed visitors under any circumstances, even death.

These people can’t leave their rooms, for anything. That’s doubly tough because not all of the rooms have bathrooms (meaning bedside toilets and urinals are a must, and there’s no privacy — everyone poops in the same room) and we can’t turn on the A/C. The way it works in this building, it would circulate respiratory particles so turning it on is too dangerous. Patient rooms are 80 degrees or higher.

Our patients are very, very sick and you do your best to make them comfortable, but there are just not enough resources left. It is tough to see your patients receive a much lower standard of care than what you would like to provide.

Kara’s facility is staffed by nurses from across the U.S.

Describe a Day in Your Work Life.  

It’s about 14 hours long. I wear the same N95 mask for five days before I get a new one — that’s not a good, clean practice but these are not good, clean times. I’m not mad at it. I knew what I was signing up for. It’s just the reality of it.

To suit up, I wear a new surgical mask on top of my N95. I also have a face shield and goggles, and I switch up what I wear depending on how much my nose and ears hurts from my mask. My googles are always fogging up, which is why I sometimes switch to my face shield. My face is so uncomfortable all day. It’s very hard to breathe.

I’m also wearing a surgical cap, a full down, booties and gloves. I walk out of patient rooms drenched.

I am on my feet all day long.  We try and give our patients emotional support and be there for them, because the nurse is the only person they are getting to see all day long.  On top of no social interaction they are scared. They struggle with breathing. There is often a language barrier. I had a guy from Pakistan that hadn’t talked to his family in a couple of weeks and they thought he was dead.

It is a very scary situation for the patients and we do our best.  

Could Anything Have Prepared You for This?

Nobody was prepared for this. Nobody knew what to expect or how to handle it. It is new to everybody. That briefing on the first day opened my eyes. I didn’t expect to be comfortable, be happy or get good sleep. I expected to feel fulfillment and help people. I knew that since I was capable, then that’s what I needed to do.  

I also knew that being young and healthy, if someone was going to do it it should be me. When you see what I have seen, it’s pretty easy to put things into perspective. I am healthy, and breathing well, and my body is healthy.  You cannot feel bad for yourself when you see these situations.

How do You Unwind? 

Quiet silence. I haven’t turned the TV on since I got here. I have been receiving packages and every time it feels like Christmas morning; a little hug from home makes the end of the day a lot better. Chipotle Door Dash helps too.  

What do Healthcare Workers Really Need? 

People have been sending me masks and other supplies they can get ahold of — surgical masks, N95s gloves, surgical caps. Not only is it helpful for me, but it also is helpful for those who are taking my place.  

What Do You Want People to Know?

People think their freedoms and rights are being taken away and complain about having to stay home, but they haven’t seen what can happen. It’s not anybody’s fault that they don’t know the reality of it. I am glad that they don’t. But this is how any city could end up. 

In NYC, people are dying, and we are running out of body bags, and there isn’t even a place for us to put the bodies. For someone like me who is in the trenches, it’s so frustrating. Nobody is trying to put a damper on your life. These rules are in place to keep people alive.

Kara is scheduled to return home on May 4.

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