After weeks on New York’s front lines, Alabama nurse returns re-energized

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by Catherine Triomphe

Seven weeks ago Dianne King left her Alabama home to fight COVID-19 in hard-hit New York, traveling to a city she’d never seen to battle a virus killing hundreds of people per day.

And after a grueling schedule on the front lines in America’s most populous city, the 43-year-old nurse is returning home this week with renewed motivation for her work.

Fighting back tears, King described “the appreciation that we have felt as nurses” as the coronavirus pandemic raged.

“For the first time, I can say in my whole career, from the patients, from families, from management, from random people on the street… did stop to say thank you,” she said.

“It makes you feel like you’re really doing something great.”

A specialist in cardiac intensive care, King arrived in New York on April 3, when residents were being admitted to hospitals in the thousands.

She, like thousands of nurses nationwide, was driven to help as dramatic images of a city in despair circulated.

King also earned well above what she would have made in the same amount of time at her hospital in Alabama.

In New York she met Grace Morales and Carla Cooley, also nurses from the US south. The three colleagues were housed in hotels in the business district Midtown, emptied by the crisis.

The work was intense: 12-hour night shifts for 21 consecutive days, before two days off — then a new cycle began.

They were all assigned to the Roosevelt Island Medical Center, normally a chronic care facility that was converted overnight into a hospital treating patients struck by COVID-19.

Emergency rooms from the city’s general hospitals sent overflow patients who were not in critical condition there.

“I think the thing that shocked me the most is the amount of patients we were getting,” she told AFP.

“One right after another, they were just literally lined up.”

Like all health workers, she was not always able to help as much as she wished to: among the hardest moments was when one of her patients learned that her sister had died of COVID-19.

“That was a really tough time, it was really an emotional time,” King said. “You know, I just held her arm, hold her hand.”

“It was hard, I didn’t really know what to say except for that I’m here and I’m so sorry.” (AFP)

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