Since I returned from serving as a Nurse Practitioner on the front lines in NYC over the past month, I have had many requests to share my story. After some time to process my experiences there, now it’s time to share them with you, our Dr. Autoimmune Family.
I never imagined that I would see New York City, a city known for never sleeping, to be so desolate. And yet, there’s no avoiding it, the Novel Coronavirus-19 has left quite the wake in a city that has overcome so much tragedy. Day after day, we were met with eerie stillness. There’s no other way to describe the empty streets. There was none of the traffic, or taxi services, or crowded sidewalks that I remember from previous social visits to the city.
I undertook the assignment where FEMA and other Federal relief efforts were put into place to construct a relief team of medical providers for the New York Health and Hospitals system. Given the extreme strain on the NY health care systems, we were told to plan on working 12.5 hours a day for 30 straight days. While it was a paid contract, I want to emphasize the struggle it took for me to go. I have a five year old son and a wonderful husband. I knew I’d be walking into intense and prolonged exposure to something that quite frankly, I was scared of. If I got sick, I would just be another one of my patients having to Facetime their family for comfort or in the worst cases scenario, to say their last goodbyes. In the end, I went because when I assessed the dire need for qualified health care providers and the experience that would be of greatest help in a provider, I had every qualification. I was unable to ignore the potential I had to really serve and help in such a crazy time as this.
The majority of my time was spent in a 450 bed pop-up tent hospital in Queens. We did not reach capacity, so the city began sending providers into hospitals to offer relief. It was so encouraging to be part of such a strong team of providers that were willing to help in any way needed. As a Nurse Practitioner, I spent the majority of my time as part of an in-patient treatment team. We would assess and round on patients who were with our facility for prolonged periods of time as they recovered. One of the most astounding things I realized with this disease is, when patients are going to decline, it happens fast. I would have assessed a patient 15 minutes prior and then a nurse would come running to get me because that same patient fell into extreme respiratory distress. I have heard this illness referred to as “just the flu.” Well, although some of the symptoms are similar, one distinct difference is length of the recovery period for some people. In some cases it can take weeks. Most every patient I had was on oxygen for weeks as we supported them through the recovery and healing process. This is not influenza.
I think this is what accounted for multiple dead bodies being found in a nearby hotel used to house recovering patients. Patients were discharged from hospitals to rest or recover before returning home or possibly because they were home insecure. I can understand how they felt. Fatigued by and unaware of decompensation in their respiratory status, they laid down to rest. Unfortunately for those four persons, they died in their sleep. In response to this tragedy, the City of NY began having our medical teams make rounds to those hotels every day to monitor vital signs, oxygenation status. Once again, a reminder that this virus is not the flu, it is not a virus we understand or have a set protocol to deal with after research and trials have given us the best evidenced based practice. This is new, this is unknown.
The unknown is very scary, especially when it comes to life or death situations. The media has been highlighting that since day one. From my experience, personally and professionally, allow me to bring you some comfort and solid advice where to direct your energy and attention. Fear does not deserve your energy.I think the media has very poorly represented the majority of people with COVID infections. We have defined an illness based on a very small subset of people who fare very poorly. The majority of infected persons will get better. They will overcome and recover with relative ease. Yes, some people may require closer attention or oxygen therapy for longer than other viruses require. In my personal experience with the illness, my patients all had underlying health issues that made them prone to illness because of a weakened immune system. I did not have one truly healthy person who had the disease and needed to be hospitalized or on oxygen.
Which brings me to the biggest take home advice I can think to offer. Optimize your health, optimize your immune system. People should have been doing this long before coronavirus, but now we have a pressing reason to assess our underlying health. I practice in the Western medical model, a system that accepts insulin resistance or Type 2 diabetes as normal. Where there is an undercurrent that certain diseases are unavoidable, i.e, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, thyroid disease, autoimmune disorders, gut disease; and what is expected and superior care is to abate symptoms with prescribing pills instead of correcting the underlying problem and healing the disease. The providers are not bad. I genuinely believe, “The System” wants to serve people. But the truth of the matter is, our healthcare system is not set up to support the time, effort and knowledge needed to heal many illnesses. That’s why I have loved working with Dr. Autoimmune. I am living proof that you can heal your body, you can help the body heal itself. You can optimize the way your body systems work and experience a level of health and vitality most never enjoy.
As I have reflected on my time in New York, I realize that the fear I had before going there was not the feeling I had when I came home. I am not scared of COVID-19. I am not scared to serve and work with people who have contracted COVID-19. I prioritize optimizing my health and the health of my family every single day through the diet we eat, exercise, hydration and rest. We correct imbalances in our bodily systems with supplements and the therapies we utilize at Dr. Autoimmune. Can I still contract COVID-19? You bet. Although you and I can’t avoid exposure to COVID-19, what I can do is go to bed every night knowing I have made every effort to be the best version of myself – physically, mentally and emotionally.
Let this life-altering situation be the one that motivates you to grow into the healthiest person you can become.