Smude recently spent 21 days in New York City, working as a crisis nurse to help treat COVID-19 patients in one of the hardest-hit regions of the United States.
You don’t have to look very hard to find COVID-19 horror stories these days. Erin Smude had heard many of them before she went to Kings County Community Hospital in New York City last month, and she expected the worst.
Instead, she found reasons to stay positive.
“I was fortunate to not be on a unit with a lot of critical COVID patients, so I got to see a lot of them progress, get better and go home,” Smude said. “You don’t get to hear about that a lot on the news — patients going home. The strength those patients had was very heartwarming.”
That’s what the Plant City resident has focused on since she got there and started chronicling some of her experiences on social media for her followers. Smude believes there’s not enough positivity being spread in the news cycle and hopes her experience can help ease some people’s fears.
She decided to try and get a crisis gig in New York after having her hours cut at her job in Florida which, luckily for her, only reduced her hours and didn’t lay her off. With time on her hands and sick people in need of treatment, she said she would have felt “wrong to sit at home while there’s a need” and linked up with a staffing company. Two days later, she and 399 other nurses were deployed to New York.
She quickly learned that everything she’d learned about nursing was about to be thrown out the window when she arrived at the hospital on April 10.
“I was petrified,” Smude said. “I was so scared when I got there. It was really scary when I got to the hospital. We did a very quick orientation. Typically you go into a job and get oriented for five or six weeks. We got an eight-hour orientation and then we were thrown into it. I had no idea what to imagine. I heard all these horror stories.”
Nursing in a crisis, she said, is nothing like what she does in her regular job.
“I had to kind of go against everything I was trained to do, with certain supplies and resources not being there and, at times, not being able to give my patients everything I felt I would have given them,” Smude said. “I had to make sure they were breathing, had the right oxygen… the conditions were not what I was used to and that was very hard for me to deal with at first. People had to keep reminding me it was different.”
Her main goal was to do whatever she could under the conditions she and her coworkers were in to treat her patients. By the end of her stint, she felt that mission was accomplished. A strong support system went a long way for her to be able to do so.
“My first day on my unit, I was petrified and one of the other nurses that had been there a few weeks, he put my mind at ease and showed me the ropes,” Smude said. “He said ‘this is a crisis, you just do the best you can.’ The bond we formed toward the end of my assignment there was wonderful. I met the most incredible people from all over the country. That was inspiring.”
Smude’s non-critical unit was fortunate enough to not have a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), which eased her mind. She said it was hard at times to be the only person some patients would see on any given day thanks in part to strict visitation restrictions, which is something she won’t forget.
“There are patients I cared for that I will never forget,” she said. “They’re in my heart. I feel like that’s gonna impact me. As a nurse, I’ve always been very caring and I did everything that I could for my patients. I definitely will keep this in my mind when I’m caring for patients, when I’m caring for patients that don’t have loved ones or a support system. Up there, you were their family. You were their person. For some of my patients, I was the person they saw every single day… I’m gonna try to be their biggest fan and their biggest support system. When visitor restrictions are lifted some people still won’t have that support system, so I’ll try to still be there and be their ‘family’ if that’s what they need.”
Smude said seeing people get better over time and eventually get discharged was uplifting. In one case, she said a pair of COVID-19 patients who shared a room bonded during their stay, became “best friends,” got discharged on the same day and even shared a cab ride home.
“They were a success story,” Smude said. “People are getting better. It just takes time. There’s not a for sure treatment for this. Doctors and nurses are doing the best they can with the knowledge and resources they have and how the patients present themselves when they come in.”
Smude’s time at the hospital ended May 1 and she returned to Plant City shortly afterward with a fresh perspective on her nursing career.
“It definitely made me appreciate what I have as a nurse in non-pandemic times,” Smude said. “Everything I had to do up there went against everything that I knew. I have a lot of appreciation for my resources and the people I work with.”
Have you or someone you know left Plant City to treat COVID-19 cases in New York City or other heavily affected parts of the country? If so, the Plant City Observer would like to tell your story. Email Associate Editor Justin Kline at firstname.lastname@example.org.