Nurse says treating coronavirus patients was ‘1,000 times worse’ than expected

Working in a Brooklyn hospital during the coronavirus crisis was “1,000 times worse” than one now-traumatized Nevada nurse ever thought possible, she said in a new interview.

Susan Yowell, 64, is no stranger to witnessing death and destruction, having traveled to New York in the aftermath of 9/11 to treat patients at Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Beth Israel. Three years later, she also saw the worst of the Ebola epidemic and went to California to educate others on the deadly virus.

But Yowell, of Mesquite, said she was thoroughly unprepared for what awaited her in the Big Apple after leaving Nevada last month to head into the epicenter of the outbreak, where more than 19,000 people have died as of Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

“Everyone tries to describe it, but after 40 years in nursing, well, it was 1,000 times worse than anything I’ve expected,” Yowell told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Yowell, who worked at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, said she had two orientation shifts on April 8-9 before starting at the hospital. She was assigned four patients on her first day, or double what a nurse should typically have, depending on the level of care needed, according to the newspaper.

“It’s just indescribable to walk in and learn you had four patients that day,” Yowell said. “When I arrived, the other nurses said it looked like a war zone.”

The “sheer number of patients” was most overwhelming for Yowell, adding that the victims she saw succumb to the disease ranged widely in age, including some in their 30s and 40s.

“So many nights, I went home and just cried,” she said. “I know I did my best but it really felt like I didn’t because so many people still died.”

Yowell is now girding herself for what one nurse who worked in an intensive care unit at the hospital for weeks warned her about: post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Psychologically, I think it will definitely affect me,” Yowell told the newspaper. “The first day I stayed in New York, I couldn’t sleep. I knew there were other nurses working after I left, but it was all I could think about.”

But seeing the cohesion of doctors, nurses and students working together was inspiring, Yowell said.

“It wasn’t just nurses; it was doctors, too, working side by side, like I’d never seen in the nursing field before,” she said. “… Millennials, they’re so resilient, but one of them said to me, ‘Your experience is what I don’t have.’”

Yowell, meanwhile, returned to Nevada on Sunday, reuniting with her husband, Jack, at McCarran International Airport. The couple is now worried about what’s to come both for the nurse of four decades and the potential of a spike in cases when Las Vegas is ultimately reopened.

“If they open up and everybody starts flying in, well, it’s going to be very interesting when they open up Las Vegas,” Yowell told the newspaper.

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