Nurses choose to leave home to fight COVID-19 on front lines in New York City
Published 6:34 pm Thursday, April 9, 2020
Two Alabama medical professionals have chosen to leave their comfort zones behind and provide support in one of America’s frontline battlegrounds of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wendy McGriff and La’Shonda Crenshaw, both an RNs at Encompass Health and Rehabilitation in Greenville, flew from Montgomery to New York City on March 31 to begin their three-week stints working at facilities in urgent need of additional help. McGriff is working at Metropolitan Hospital, while Crenshaw is serving at the Henry J. Carter Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility.
“Wendy and I were scared to death stepping out into the unknown,” Crenshaw said.
“I was scared and nervous — and the thought of leaving my family was almost more than I could take,” McGriff admitted.
The knowledge they could put their skills and experience to work, coupled with the desire to help where it was most needed, proved greater than their fears.
“When I heard of New York and how understaffed the hospitals were, and how sick the patients were, I looked at my husband, Chad, and said ‘I have to go help. I feel it burning in my heart. They need me. And if I can help just one person, then it is worth it.’”
Arrangements were made through Krucial Staffing, a Kansas-based firm, which supplies both clinical and non-clinical support staff to any location around the country requiring urgent assistance.
The two women had to fly out within 48 hours to be in New York City for their assignments, and be ready to hit the ground running once they got there. They’ve been on the go ever since, with little time for anything other than work, a bite to eat and a few hours of sleep before they do it all over again.
In fact, McGriff’s hotel currently has no air conditioning.
This is definitely no big city vacation. What it is, is a life-changing experience.
“We got there on March 31 and had our first shifts on April 1,” Crenshaw said. “I am working from 7 p.m. to
7 a.m. at Carter. The bus picks us up at 6 p.m. to take us to the hospital for our 12-hour shift and comes back to get us at 7 a.m. We spend all of those hours at work in hot and uncomfortable PPE (personal protective equipment), including mask, gloves and gown. I typically care for 7-10 patients, all bed-bound, all on ventilators with tracheotomies and breathing tubes.”
There are currently two confirmed COVID-19 patients in the Carter facility. While all of Crenshaw’s patients are suspected of having COVID-19, they have not all been tested yet.
For McGriff, the worst in respect to the novel coronavirus has been confirmed for her patients.
“Every single patient I have at Metropolitan is COVID-positive and they are very sick,” she said. “They have no family at their bedside, so when they take their last breath, other than the nurse or doctor, they are all alone.”
The lack of much-needed equipment and protective gear is real — and it’s frustrating, according to the duo.
“We do not have enough ventilators,” McGriff said. “The ICU units are full and every single patient in the ICU is on a ventilator. Sadly, I’ve not seen anyone come off of one yet.”
Every time she leaves or enters a different room, McGriff has to replace the outer plastic gown worn over her layers of paper and regular scrubs and change her gloves. Gowns are running out.
McGriff’s hands are also chapped from repeated sanitizing. Her face appears burned in places from the pressure of wearing bulky shields and masks for up to 16 hours a day.
It is a hot, sweaty and physically exhausting process, repeated many times during each shift, McGriff said.
“You do what you have to do,” she said.
Last Saturday, there were 21 patients in McGriff’s unit and only two nurses, including the Greenville resident.
“We also had two patients on ventilators because the ICU was full,” she said. “So imagine, two patients crashing at the same time with only two nurses, and 19 other patients needing you, but you cannot get to them. My heart breaks at moments like this.”
Crenshaw added that each day dealing with the coronavirus is “chaotic and unknown.”
“I honestly thought the media was exaggerating all this about the virus,” she said. “I can say the media is not exaggerating. They have an 18-wheeler with a freezer holding bodies at another hospital. The public needs to educate themselves about this virus and listen to the professionals. They need to stay protected.”
McGriff strongly agrees.
“This virus is real and it’s not a joke at all,” she said. “It is killing young and old alike. I have lost two 22-year-old patients that had no co-morbid conditions. COVID-19 doesn’t care who it gets.”
While many of Crenshaw’s patients are older, she has seen COVID-19 strike the young, too, during her stint in NYC.
“Just the other night, one of the nurses I am working with had a perfectly healthy 21-year-old son die suddenly from this virus,” Crenshaw said.
The duo added that COVID-19 is like nothing they have encountered in all their years of nursing.
“It is a beast and it is causing symptoms I have never, ever seen before,” McGriff said. “Yes, in spite of early reports to the contrary, some people are experiencing vomiting and diarrhea. A lot of people are likely walking around with it right now and spreading it because they are asymptomatic. This virus has medical professionals all scratching their heads. I cannot stress enough to the folks back home that you need to stay at home whenever possible and abide by the laws for your and everyone else’s safety.”
“This is real and it’s bad and you do not want it,” she said.
The two nurses also admit that they are glad to have the opportunity to spread the word about the importance of being proactive in the fight against COVID-19.
“Do not leave your life in the hands of overworked medical workers that are giving every ounce of themselves to try and help, but due to lack of resources, can only do so much,” McGriff said.
In addition to practicing social distancing, washing hands regularly, using sanitizing products and wearing masks in public, they have other recommendations.
“Drink lots and lots of fluids,” McGriff said. “Warm fluids with some honey and lemon are ideal. Enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, it is good for you. Take plenty of vitamins and eat well. Good nutrition is vital to your health and energy level.”
Both McGriff and Crenshaw ask their friends and family back home to do something else — to pray for each other, the community and the world.
“I have always felt that I would be called to some type of mission field one day here in the U.S.,” McGriff said. “I never knew I would be 38 and dealing with swollen ankles when it happened. But I know that this is unlike anything we’ve seen in my lifetime, and if I can help even one person, or wake some people up to the reality of this, well, I will have completed my goal.”
Crenshaw expressed thanks for all the prayers going up for her and fellow healthcare workers battling the pandemic.
“I can feel those prayers; please keep them coming,” she posted on Facebook, sharing a favorite scripture from Psalms 91 on her Facebook page:
“Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”
On Monday, McGriff received welcome news — a fresh group of nurses arrived at Metropolitan Hospital. A Mental Health Day slated for this Saturday will allow Crenshaw and McGriff a much-needed day off together — time for two of Greenville’s “superheroes in scrubs” to refresh themselves before returning to the frontlines.
“I am not sure how many times a day I have said to myself, ‘Nope. I am going home to the comfort of my hometown’ . . . when suddenly a message or text comes through saying, ‘Keep pushing through. You got this.’ I will never be able to repay the kindness people have shown me,” McGriff concluded.
Anyone who wishes to express their support for the two local nurses via a card, hand-written note, letter or a prayer cloth, is asked to do so this week to give Crenshaw and McGriff a “midterm boost” during their NYC stint.
McGriff’s husband, Chad, said such mail would be a tremendous encouragement and a real morale booster for both women.
Send cards, letters and/or prayer cloths to:
- TRYP Hotel, c/o Wendy McGriff, 345 W. 35th St., New York, NY 10001
- La’Shonda Crenshaw c/o Staybridge Suites Times Square, 340 W. 40th St., New York, NY 10018