It was like a war biopic, horror flick and zombie apocalypse film all rolled into one. That’s how North Texas nurses Maybelle Anderson and Courtney Waddle described their experience battling the coronavirus in New York City.
Since the pandemic began battering New York in March, health officials implored nurses nationwide for their help. Anderson and Waddle joined thousands of others to answer the call, risking their own lives to save countless others.
“It’s like going to war; you know that it’s going on, but you’re not there, so you can’t really comprehend what these people are going through unless you’ve seen it yourself,” Waddle said.
“You don’t want this coming here.”
After elective surgeries were deemed nonessential, Anderson and Waddle were furloughed from their jobs at Lonestar Endoscopy Center in Flower Mound and Southlake. Instead of sitting around, though, the Texas Woman’s University graduates decided to charge straight into ground zero. According to The New York Times, New York leads the country in confirmed coronavirus cases.
Anderson and Waddle tried their best to ready themselves for the fight ahead. But Waddle, who lives in Argyle, said she was shocked by the chaos unfolding in the city’s hospitals.
After landing in New York in early April, Waddle was assigned to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, and Anderson was sent to Brooklyn’s Coney Island Hospital. They worked grueling 14- and 15-hour days for two weeks straight before taking a day off.
Anderson said her hospital was severely understaffed, and at times, the patient load was overwhelming.
“Here, a typical day would be one nurse to four patients,” the Southlake resident said. “Over there, it was like one nurse to 25. You don’t even know who’s who anymore after that.”
Coronavirus patients were stacked everywhere, Anderson added, and a cacophony of hospital monitors and alarms was constantly blaring.
“I always joked that if Hollywood needed a horror scene for a movie, they didn’t need props; just show up at any of the major [New York City] hospitals,” she said. “That’s how bad it is.”
Adding to the turmoil, Anderson and Waddle said they were faced with a severe shortage of personal protective equipment. Some days, nurses would even have to fight for the proper PPE.
Many patients would seemingly get better one day, before crashing again the next. The disease doesn’t discriminate, Waddle said; it can tear down a healthy 23-year-old just as fast as it would someone who’s considered high-risk.
“Because that’s how the coronavirus works,” she said, snapping her fingers. “You can drop like that.”
Both Anderson and Waddle said they’d visited the Big Apple before. This time, though, it was different.
Waddle said arriving in the “totally deserted” city reminded her of Will Smith’s post-apocalyptic thriller I Am Legend. But she was also able to see all the city’s sights on her first day off — a feat that would normally be nigh impossible.
“It was so surreal and probably the best time to go and see the city,” Waddle said. “We saw the entire city in a day.”
Anderson and Waddle shared a hotel room with three other North Texas nurses, each of whom worked at a different area hospital. Waddle said that after every shift, the nurses would stop by a “decontamination station” to sanitize their work garb and take a shower.
Even though shifts were extraordinarily hectic, Waddle said work would sometimes have bright moments. Every time a COVID-19 patient was discharged, for instance, her hospital would blare a triumphant song over the intercom: either Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” or Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind.”
“You’d start hearing less rapid response calls and more of the, ‘Oh, my COVID patient’s being discharged’ songs,” Waddle said with a smile. “So that was uplifting.”
Leaving the front line
Anderson returned to Texas in late April, and Waddle followed suit on May 9. After coming home, they each self-quarantined for two weeks. To see if they’d ever encountered the virus themselves, they also said they each took a coronavirus test and an antibody test; both results were negative.
If a person tests positive for antibodies, that means they’d been exposed to the virus at one point but successfully fought it off, Waddle said. Now, experts are encouraging such people to donate plasma, since doing so could help COVID-19 patients fight the disease.
“I was kind of hoping for some antibodies,” Anderson said with a laugh.
Waddle said many of the coronavirus patients she treated on the front line will forever stick with her. She’ll think of them from time to time, hoping that they made full recoveries and are living life to the fullest.
Even though it was a trying experience, Anderson said she would do it all over again. New York City may be on the mend, but for other COVID-19 hot spots such as Houston, Los Angeles and Detroit, the war is far from over.
“If given the opportunity and something came up,” Anderson said, “I would go [help] in a heartbeat.”