‘The threat to my health and life has led to anxiety’

The author: Her two children also work as nurses in Manhattan

By Femarie Clarete-Bedona, RN

As a Critical Care Nurse for 27 years, I had the opportunity to serve and render nursing care to patients with different kinds of illnesses. I was confronted with the most challenging and threatening part of my career when New York City became the epicenter of COVID-19 since March of 2020 and our unit was fully occupied with patients who tested positive for the Coronavirus.  

Every working night, I spend at least 15 minutes putting on my PPE, making sure that I am protected from head to toe. For the first time in my career, I have to wear an N95 face mask continuously for 13 hours, forfeiting my break and working with rigorous schedule while dealing with no less than three very sick patients with multiple drips at any given time.

Being a witness to the death of about 90 percent of our patients is not only demoralizing but also devastating. The most painful feeling I experienced was when we lost a patient who is a nurse working in our sister facility.   I felt so defeated and vulnerable. The knowledge of the death of fellow nurses and friends with whom I had personal and professional relationship, made me doubt if I can still survive with the kind of exposure I had to confined patients. “Doffing” or taking out my PPE at the end of the shift takes another 15 to 20 minutes, making sure that I do it right while disinfecting myself as much as possible.

During the height of pandemic, I went beyond the call of my specific duties as we prepared our own drips because Pharmacy cannot cope with the demand, picked up supply of medications outside the unit as it is not safe for Pharmacist to enter our unit; cleaning patients’ rooms and bringing out trash outside the room for the safety of housekeeping personnel. I am being exposed more to the danger of being infected by COVID-19 in exchange for the health safety of other hospital personnel.

It takes 15 minutes to put on PPE and another 15 minutes to take it off at the end of the shift.

The threat to my health and life was extremely draining emotionally and psychologically, physically exhaustive and stressful which led to anxiety. Despite my extreme fear which I was able to overcome, I remained focused on my job. Never did I entertain the idea of giving up my work in exchange for my own personal safety.

On the positive side, the pandemic has allowed me and my fellow nurses in the ICU the closeness that we did not experience in normal times. Aside from my family, my fellow nurses were the source of my strength and courage as I face the threat of death and uncertainties every day. We have now a stronger team that is still ready to provide the best nursing care to patients whatever their conditions are.

The bad situation brings out goodness in a lot of people. Food donations are abundant in the hospital. People are more tolerant and patient. Frontliners get free breakfast from McDonald’s for a period of time. Every 7 p.m., ambulances sound their sirens, cars blow their horns, people open their windows sounding their whistles and clanging metals together in honor of those working in the front line. Indeed, it is a heartwarming show of support from the community.

Being exposed to COVID-19 is bad enough, but having two children who are nurses, like me, gives me the worst fear a mother can experience. The paralyzing fear renders me helpless. I also feel for my husband who is having sleepless nights and suffering from constant anxiety thinking of his wife and 2 children caught at the epicenter of the pandemic. I don’t have words to comfort him because I do not know how this will end.                     

During these moments, prayer is my only comfort. The prayers of the members of my family, our friends and members of the pastoral staff in our church made me persevere and became the best version of myself in this worst situation. Faith and trust in God held us together during these months of uncertainty. I know that the Lord is always around to protect me and my family.

Femarie (center) joins the People’s Climate March with fellow members from the New York State Nurses Association.

Femarie Clarete-Bedona, RN works as an Intensive Care Unit nurse in Manhattan.  She is a graduate of Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Central Philippine University in Iloilo City. In New York, she worked as a nurse at Bellevue Hospital Center, Coronary Care Unit since she arrived in 1991 and until her retirement in 2017. She has a Master of Science in Nursing from Hunter College of the City University of New York. She is on the board of the Philippine Nurses Association of New York from  2018 up to the present.

(C) The FilAm 2021

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