As a flight nurse in Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, Amy Bowen is no stranger to emergencies. But COVID-19 is unlike anything she has faced. “I think it’s unlike anything any of us have ever really faced,” she says of the virus that has so far killed more than 110,000 people in the United States.
In April, Amy volunteered with International Medical Corps’ COVID-19 response in New York City, the epicenter of the global pandemic. She worked in the COVID unit of Brooklyn’s Maimonides Medical Center during the height of the virus’ devastating sweep through the city. A safety net hospital, Maimonides serves the population hardest hit by the virus: very low-income people of color.
When Amy arrived, she found the Maimonides staff completely “devastated, overworked and overwhelmed”—having gone from around 50 patients on ventilators to more than 600 within days, while quickly running out of medication. Many of the staff had also contracted the virus, leaving the hospital understaffed at the same time it was being inundated with critically ill patients.
“Everywhere we went, you could just see a sigh of relief when the hospital staff spotted our International Medical Corps shirts,” says Amy. “I can’t tell you how many times I heard ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you – we couldn’t do this without you.’”
Almost every patient Amy cared for was COVID-positive, with very low chances of survival. They were all on ventilators, chest tubes, and multiple IVs, and needed to be turned in their beds constantly. Furthermore, the patients were completely isolated from their families, in an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“You have to be completely invested in these patients because you’re it—you’re their only person,” says Amy. “So you go in and you visit with them, and you take care of them as if they’re your own mom or dad.”
It quickly became apparent that no nurse could handle this challenge alone—and so everyone pulled together as a family. She thinks nursing is changing as a result of the “all hands on deck” approach necessitated by COVID-19, giving nurses a chance to learn new skills and develop more empathy for each other’s jobs. “I volunteered with the goal of just helping wherever I could, but I ended up gaining so many valuable experiences,” says Amy. “All of the nurses I know have really stepped up and learned a whole new level of nursing.”
This was Amy’s third time deploying with an International Medical Corps emergency response team—and she says she can’t wait to do it again.
“My own daughter passed away last June and I miss her every single day,” she says. “I volunteer because I don’t want someone else to have to miss their daughter or their mom because of this virus.”
Though the fight against COVID-19 is far from over and much remains uncertain, medical professionals like Amy—working tirelessly on the frontlines and pulling together as a team—will make a huge difference in how the virus shapes our shared future.
International Medical Corps is on the frontlines of COVID-19 in both the US and 30+ countries worldwide. In the US, we are supporting more than 30 health facilities in Los Angeles, New York City, Puerto Rico, Chicago, Detroit and Boston with emergency medical field units, equipment, supplies and volunteer staff. Worldwide, we have screened more than 250,000 individuals for COVID-19, distributed more than 2.9 million pieces of personal protective equipment and infection prevention and control items, and trained more than 8,800 frontline healthcare professionals on COVID-19 prevention and control measures.