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Inside a Texas hospital: Local nurse describes COVID-19 unit and treating critical patients

Joanna Hernandez, 26, is a traveling nurse currently treating COVID-19 patients at a south Texas hospital.

The front lines of the global pandemic is a lonely place, where the most critical patients struggle for air and are forbidden to have family by their side, said a nurse working in a COVID-19 unit at a Texas hospital.

“When you walk into these rooms and you see people fighting for their lives, you see them grasping for air, for oxygen, their eyes are red, they’re in such anxiety and no one can be there. That’s the scary thing. If one of your parents or your kids ends up in one of those units, you cannot be there,” said Joanna Hernandez, 26.

As a traveling nurse, working under a temporary contract, Hernandez said she did not expect supervisors to assign her to the COVID-19 unit at a south Texas hospital.

“One day they told me,” Hernandez recalled, “just get ready to go. At that moment I had to wrap my head around, this is real, this is happening.”

Hernandez is from Fort Worth but currently works at a hospital in the Rio Grande Valley.

There, she says, COVID-19 patients are kept in negative pressure rooms, which prevent potentially contaminated air from escaping to hallways and other parts of the medical center. 

“We really want – when those doors open – for everything to be sucked back in. We don’t want anything floating out and exposing any of the other staff,” she explained.

Hernandez said nurses at her hospital care for two or three COVID-19 patients a day, which is half the usual number on other floors.

Most people who have caught the virus have improved, but Hernandez is resigned that some might not.

“We know that these patients’ families are just – they have a hope – and a lot of them really aren’t going to see light at the end of the tunnel. And that’s what’s hard for us to see,” she said.

Despite that realization, Hernandez said she has not yet lost a patient to the virus.

“Not yet. And I hope to God that I don’t,” she added.

Unwinding after 13-hour days, has been best with nurse friends on the phone.

“We’re all here to motivate each other and we’re all trying to be brave, as brave as we can, and that’s what’s getting us going,” she continued.

Hernandez said her recruiters say there’s a need for nurses in New York and New Jersey, two hot spots in the fight against COVID-19. Those jobs can pay $4,000 or more each week. It’s something she said will consider when her current contract ends.

She described more of her experiences in the latest episode of the Y’all-itics political podcast. Click here to listen.

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