Gainesville nurse resigns to answer calling in New York City hospital

Editor’s Note

This is the fourth article in a series entitled “Frontline NYC” by Mainstreet Daily News Staff Writer Suzette Cook about the experiences of nurses from Gainesville dispatched to New York City in the fight against COVID-19.

 Something came over RN Barbara Edwards on April 1st that she couldn’t explain at the time. The single mother of two teenagers said it all came down to the pledge she took when she became a nurse 13 years ago.

“When something like this happens on a global scale, it’s about the pledge we take to be humanitarians… we have compassion, and empathy,” Edwards said. “All of those things they teach us… there’s a calling. What’s happening here is at the core of a nurse.”

Edwards was employed by UF Shands Health trauma ER in the main hospital until April 2nd when she felt forced to choose between keeping her job in Gainesville or answering the plea of hospitals and fellow nurses fighting a battle at the virus’ epicenter in New York City. 

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The right choice for Edwards was to join thousands of other deployed nurses including several of her colleagues in Gainesville who had left in prior waves. She submitted a letter of resignation based on a notice issued on April 2nd to all Shands medical staff by CEO Ed Jimenez stating that, “We cannot support employees using leave/vacation time to work or volunteer out of state.”

Quotable

“New York is a part of America. If it was Florida, I would love for New York to come help me if my family was dying.  I can’t say that I would appreciate it if the rest of the world just walked away and turned a blind eye.”

–Barbara Edwards

Edwards, 37, had already made arrangements to make sure her shifts at Shands were covered before she left, and in her resignation she said she wrote, “I love working at Shands, there’s no other place I would rather be serving my community, and I don’t want this to be the end.”

When Edwards arrived at Metropolitan Hospital in New York City the next day, and took the elevator to the 9th floor to join the ICU team, she was welcomed by overworked and overwhelmed nurses who told her that they had been praying for help.

“I personally felt it was me answering the call.”

It all made sense.

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“We are all going to learn from this,” Edwards said on April 8th after her fourth 12-hour shift. “There are no practice runs in a disaster.”

When Edwards arrived at the ward, there was a 26-to-2 ratio of patients to nurses which meant very little help was available for bedside care. 

Edwards and other nurses immediately began assuming roles and trying to figure things out. 

“It’s neat how all of us have teamed together,” she said and noted that the patient/nurse ratio has now leveled out.

“Our crisis unit came in and took over,” she said. “And right behind me was another wave. It’s finally at one nurse to two patients. And we’re opening another ICU today taking patients from other hospitals.”

With that shift, Edwards said the nurses are starting to be able to take care of each other.

“I’m responsible for 30 people who get on my bus,” she said. “I make sure everyone is getting in and out of the hospital. There was zero communication when we got here because everyone is inundated.”

Edwards said they started several nurse chat groups and that “every day it’s getting better.”

With personnel issues becoming less of a problem, Edwards said her problem-solving focus is now on working with dwindling supplies.

“We’re having to get really creative in every way,” she said, and described how she recently built a makeshift tent over a patient to increase his oxygen intake because he was using a simple mask.

“The gentleman’s factor ratio was in the 60s,” she said. “He was overworked trying to catch his breath. He had a simple mask on, not getting enough concentration.”

“I couldn’t get the resources I needed to prevent intubation and prevent coding, so I threw a basin over his head and took a bed chuck, tucked it around his shoulders and head and blocked oxygen and got him up over 90 percent.”

She said she was able to talk to him in a little bit of Spanish. “Mainly ‘respira profundo,’” she said. Deep breaths. 

“Today he’s not intubated.”

The biggest challenge for the ICU now is the lack of PPE, Edwards said.

“Today I came in and we don’t have anything to protect ourselves.”

Edwards came up with an idea that would make PPE last longer while cutting down the potential spread of the virus on the floor.

Each nurse has a surgical gown issued that they were wearing into rooms with COVID-19 patients and then walking around the ward with them still on.

She asked maintenance to come up and attach hooks to each room door so that nurses could remove the gown and hang it up and walk away from it.

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“We can’t infect our unit,” she said. “A clean unit is our priority.”

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., the unit is expecting more of the disposable surgical gowns to be delivered.

She wears goggles, an N95 and regular mask, and a face shield that a company dropped as a donation.

 “Do you hear that,” she asked about sirens in the background. “Sirens all day, every day and all night.”

With 17 days to go, Edwards said she plans to return to Gainesville unemployed.

Until then, “Everyday it’s just a new battle,” she said. “You just walk in, expect something is coming up and figure it out.”

And she reminds people back in Gainesville that for her, “The way was made and it’s not about the money.”

“New York is a part of America. If it was Florida, I would love for New York to come help me if my family was dying.  I can’t say that I would appreciate it if the rest of the world just walked away and turned a blind eye.”

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