To whom this may concern, which should be everyone, I, too, am writing about the coronavirus. Not as a doctor, not as a mother, but as a college student writing from their desk. I am writing about my job, my bills and, most importantly, my family. My family is strong. We are smart, hardworking and we stick together. My dad made sure we had everything we could need during the nationwide panic following September 11. My mom poured her soul into her work and was accepted into nursing school when we needed help. In 2008, my dad didn’t let that pink piece of paper defeat him. We have risen through so much because we stayed together. But the ER is one place I cannot go.
My mother is a nurse in the ER. My sister is a nurse in the ICU. Both are overwhelmed with those infected by the coronavirus. People used to ask me, “Will you follow your family’s example and become a nurse?” I would laugh and say no, that the medical field wasn’t for me. But I wish I had said yes. I wish there was some way I could help my mom, that I could help the ER staff.
I am home now. I have left the University of Michigan, my dream college, and some of my best friends with it, to return home and take care of my little sisters. I told my job I would come back in two to three weeks, but that seems unlikely. I have a lease waiting to be signed for this summer. I have endless emails thanking me for “my interest in the position” and assuring me “they’ll get back to me soon.” But most hiring has halted because of the coronavirus. This is not a sob story — it is an explanation of what it’s like to be a college student during the pandemic and how we can fight against this disease. And, hopefully, return to a semblance of normalcy.
My father and I just returned from my sister’s. We were dropping off PPE, or personal protection equipment, which my dad bought online. Both my mom and sister’s hospital have run out of masks. They are being sent into a patient’s room, a room where the only noise is the beeping of a machine and the forbidding, raspy cough of a patient waiting to be tested. But the real atmosphere of a hospital is not quiet, though it is scary. According to nurse Sarah Jividen, California is also unprepared for this pandemic.
UCLA nurses held an emergency meeting on Tuesday, March 17, demanding proper equipment. “We are like soldiers going to war,” states Fong Chuu, a UCLA nurse and spokesperson. “If we are not equipped well, we are not going to win this battle.” I also spoke with my mother, an ER nurse, about her experiences with the coronavirus.
“People are a lot more on edge,” she said. “There’s a lot more stress. A 12-hour shift now feels like a 24-hour because you’re constantly waiting for what’s gonna happen next.” The lack of ventilators, other PPE and the constant patients are adding to the ever-changing atmosphere of these hospitals. “It’s a lot louder at work because we’ve turned regular rooms into negative pressure rooms, so in order to do that you have to be hooked up to a special generator. So, it’s noisier.”
Many people are looking to the government for guidance, more now than ever. Nurse Younglove listed Governor Gretchen Whiter of Michigan and Governor Dewine of Ohio as strong leaders at this time. “Based on what I’ve seen and read at the hospital, I don’t see how she could have done anything differently. She had a stay-at-home [order] almost immediately, she took the kids out of schools right away, closed down bars, she’s trying to buy PPE even though she’s somehow getting bought out by the federal government.”
She also mentioned Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, who has been a great ally to nurses and people around the world with daily conferences and interviews. “He answers questions honestly and truthfully. He gives the best information he can at the time,” she said. “There’s a lot of misleading information about him and people need to stay away from reading stuff that their own political party is putting out there.”
As a communication and media major, I also want to stress the need to follow credible news sources for updates on how to prevent and protect yourself and others from contracting the coronavirus. Nurse Younglove has worked in the ER for years and says she and the other nurses have never seen anything like this. In times of crisis, it is important to remain calm, be kind and listen to doctors. “They need to read neutral information, they need to find good sources of information, because there’s a lot of misleading … what people call truth, I call lies. There are misleading stories about multiple governors, but [Cuomo] is a man who has a sat down and said ‘We’re going to put a firewall up. This is where we’re going to stop doing things, we’re going to stop going out, we’re going to close the restaurants, I want more ventilators, I need more PPE.’ He’s listing off what he needs and he’s asking for it.”
I cannot buy ventilators for the ER staff, but I can make cards and send them food during their work. College students are in a confusing and unprecedented time. But we can still help nurses; we can even save lives. “First and foremost, just stay at home,” she recommended. “The less sick people that come into the hospital the less likely I am to get sick and the less likely I am to bring it home to my family. I think the people making the masks coverings are great; they’re helping to keep our N95’s to last longer.”
As a writer, it is my job to spread the word and ensure others and myself are being safe. But this is something you can do, too. “Staying at home, promoting people to stay at home are ways to help,” she said. “If you know someone who’s not staying at home, tell them why they should stay home. If someone says, ‘Well I don’t think it’s something that concerns me because I’m not sick,’ explain to them that it can be transmitted without symptoms. Explain to them when they go and see Grandma and Grandpa, and they’re 20 years old, they could be spreading the virus to them and if they get sick, they come to me and I take care of them.” My mom has not hugged any of us in over a month for fear of exposing us to what she sees every day. Instead of ostracizing nurses, who are putting their lives on the line every day, respect and help protect them.
“If I get sick, then I go home and give [it] to my family because you can’t test everyone. Then one of my kids go to someone who’s older, they get sick, now they’re going in to be taken care of by other nurses who potentially could get sick. And it’s not just old people.
“There’s a 6-week-old that died in Connecticut as of yesterday, brand new baby, six weeks old and died of the coronavirus. So spread the news. This isn’t a political argument so there’s nothing wrong with telling people to stay home. That is the number one way people can protect nurses. There are only so many of us and as we get sick, you’re going to have less and less nurses. There are less people to take care of heart attacks. There are less people to take care of individuals that have, say, a diabetic crisis. Gunshot wounds, car accidents, your staff is so busy taking care of COVID-19 patients — it’s very difficult to imagine what it would be like if there was a mass causality for some other reason.”
I understand you had summer plans, whether it was a week in California or an internship you had set up months prior. You have rent to finish paying for a place you cannot visit. I had to leave my best friends. My first year at the university was cut short by death and disease. Weddings, birthdays, graduations, proms, competitions, all have been canceled. And you’re right, it’s not fair. You didn’t ask for this; no one did.
But I am asking for your help. If you haven’t taken proper precautions, I’m asking for your help now. Take this seriously; help me protect my mom, my sister — and not just for me, but for your family, too. My most important paper will not be my communications thesis paper. This is my most important article. This is the most important time to stay home, to wash your hands, to help nurses. From the desk of a college student, from your fellow college student, and the daughter and sister of two nurses, I am asking for your help. And I hope you will rise to the challenge.