BARNEGAT, NJ – Her battle scars begin with the deep indentations her protective mask leaves behind. While those will fade in time, it’s the ones that line her heart and soul that hurt the most. Yet, this Barnegat frontline nurse is emphatic. She does not consider herself a hero.
“Nurse Mary” spoke with TAPintoBarnegat/Waretown on condition of anonymity. After college, Mary worked behind a desk in a field unrelated to medicine. It wasn’t until eight years ago that she pursued her dreams. Mary works as a hospital nurse in Ocean County. However, when she made the career change, she had no idea she would one day help combat a pandemic.
“I always wanted to go to nursing school,” shared Mary. “My mother convinced me that I was too squeamish and couldn’t handle being around blood.”
Since then, her mom somewhat adjusted to Mary opting for a nursing career. However, that was when she first made the transition. These days, Mary’s mother has a simple request. She’d like her daughter to just quit her job.
A registered nurse, Mary became accustomed to working three 12 hour shifts on a medical-surgical floor. Her experience put her in the face of caring for patients with all kinds of acute disorders, from heart failure to diabetes and cancer. That said, nothing prepared Mary for what she sees when people test positive for COVID-19.
Mary is the first to admit it. Physicians and nurses alike initially minimized the disease when they heard about it making its way to the United States. Like many people, medical professionals figured they’d be treating an illness that resembled the flu. However, that impression was short-lived.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to some of what we are seeing,” Mary explained. “People with no significant medical history are getting very sick. We’re talking younger people, including those in their forties and fifties.”
In some regards, it’s almost a cruel game of roulette. For many, how hard the disease will land remains unpredictable. And while “do not resuscitate” or DNRs are generally family decisions, they’ve become more commonplace among those left alone by no choice of their own.
“Some of the people we were sure would survive quickly go down the tubes,” admitted the dedicated hospital nurse. “Yet, the ones we thought would need intubation are ultimately discharged.”
For Mary, her job is much more than handing out meds to keep fevers down. It’s not just about checking vitals or adjusting settings on high tech equipment. Truth be told, it’s a much more personal experience.
Technology allows Mary to connect patients with the families they can’t visit. No doubt, she’s among the vast majority of healthcare professionals that recognize how much connections help the healing process. Mary puts her best face forward in bringing loved ones together.
Like any veteran fighter, seeing death does not come easy. However, Mary braces herself for her patients. She sits with them as they take their last breaths, and their hearts beat no longer.
“I think of it as if it was my family member dying alone,” Mary shared. “I would want someone to be there with one of them.”
Meanwhile, Mary worries that the curve won’t flatten unless people comply with social distancing directives. She remembers when her hospital didn’t have available ventilators. And, also recalls when there weren’t enough PPEs around for medical personnel.
The happiest times are when COVID-19 patients are discharged. Some go home, while others are sent for rehabilitation. A number who are released will be readmitted at a later date. No one is fully recovered when they leave the hospital. The beds are needed for the next onset of patients.
“People want to leave the hospital,” said Mary. “However, a number who have walked in are unable to walk out. They need to move to a place that can help them before they return to their families.”
While Mary’s hospital shift might end, the coronavirus has become part of her daily nightmares. She wears a mask at home to avoid infecting her husband and children. Mary finds that she is neurotic about cleaning and won’t even cook meals for her family. In the back of her mind, she worries that she will contract the disease herself.
“I would never want my children to think I chose my career above them,” Mary emphasized. “I feel like a soldier going off to battle.”