NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — In two weeks, Madelyn Smith witnessed at least seven people die.
It’s her grim reality as a nurse at a hospital in New York where the COVID-19 outbreak unleashed an unforgiving wrath. The Bellevue mother decided to get back to her ICU roots and signed up to travel hundreds of miles away from her family to fight an invisible enemy.
Smith described the hospital as the “epicenter of the epicenter” where in the middle of serving many patients who can’t breath, she found herself pausing and using her faith to comfort others who were intubated.
“We’ve had large numbers of people dying one night that were dying just from our shift,” she said. “Being with them as they’re going to take their last breath, holding their hand and just giving them that personal touch of feeling someone that cares. They don’t have to die scared and alone.”
She doesn’t know them and they don’t know her. With loved ones unable to see the patients in the ICU, Smith was one of the last people they saw alive. They couldn’t speak to her at that point since they needed a ventilator to breath.
“There are a lot of questions that go through my mind when someone’s dying and I pray for their souls,” she said.
The country is reaching half a million COVID-19 cases with the death toll beyond 16,000. New York has been the hardest hit with nearly 800 deaths reported in a single day. The number of patients and confirmed cases in New York has slightly dropped this week. It shows evidence of social distancing may be flattening the curve.
However, the death toll is still high as crews are seen burying unclaimed bodies that have been at the morgue for weeks.
The slight decrease in cases is a sliver of hope though for the nurses who have tirelessly worked a minimum of 12 hour shifts. There are now rooms opening up in the ICU where patients are being transferred to because they have beds and nurses who are able to provide more personal care.
There’s now room for some patients who don’t have the virus in some instances.
The change in operations is a stark difference to when Smith first arrived. She described it as terrifying and chaotic with patients having to be in chairs because there were not enough beds. Stretchers were lined touching against the wall with no room for social distancing.
In some cases when the outbreak first exploded, the ratio of patients per nurse was anywhere from 7-15:1.
Despite the concerns, Smith always had personal protective equipment available from gowns and masks to face shields and head caps. To her knowledge there were no issues with ventilators for critical patients who relied on them.
“You treated everyone as if they’re a COVID-19 patient because they probably are. When you’re seeing young people that you’re resuscitating, that’s frightening. When you see people that could be your mother and your children or loved ones or friends, that’s frightening,” she said.
Many of the patients have been men per her observation.
She plans to stay at the hospital for one more week and will likely continue to update family and friends through social media. It’s through her Facebook page where feelings pour out, and lately, they’ve been hopeful.
Smith admits she doesn’t consider herself a hero with the amount of deaths, but most New Yorkers would disagree as videos circulate of residents cheering medical professionals from their apartments.
Firefighters would even escort and greet the nurses as they were shuttled the hospital on some days. While it’s been a tough two weeks, nurses like Smith feel reinvigorated. It’s a role that helps her fulfill a purpose.
“God placed a huge calling in my heart to help in the crisis.”