#SWAAYthenarrative

Why I Sailed Myself to New York City to Work in a Hospital at the Epicenter of COVID-19

4 Min Read
Health

Having taken a tow-year hiatus from ICU nursing, it was a bit of an adjustment getting back into the flow of this specialized field — especially walking into a foreign environment and treating a strange disease I had never seen before. In Ohio, I worked in a Level 1 trauma intensive care unit at Grant Medical Center; this experience prepared me to care for extraordinarily sick COVID-19 patients. I had never worked in such a difficult environment; it was challenging to see a disease destroy patient's bodies and not have legitimate ways of treating them. As a nurse, I so deeply desire to help people and see them to recovery, something that has hardly been happening in the face of COVID-19.

As March turned into April, a sense of discontentedness steadily grew within me. My husband, Taylor, and I were living in central Virginia, and I was working as an Anesthesia Pre-Op nurse. Prior to the two years we spent in Virginia, we had been in Hawaii and Ohio, were I had gained three years of experience as an intensive care unit nurse. COVID-19 rattled Virginia, causing all of our elective surgeries to be cancelled, and my job to be uncomfortably slow. I was hardly being utilized, while watching with the nation the horror of COVID sweeping across New York City. The message was clear: ICU nurses were desperately needed.

As a nurse, I so deeply desire to help people and see them to recovery, something that has hardly been happening in the face of COVID-19.

After careful thought and prayer, Taylor and I decided to move to NYC for COVID ICU relief. I quit my job and said a quick goodbye to my beloved coworkers, friends, and family. I rallied the troops, getting Tom Huling, a dear friend and fellow ICU nurse from Ohio to travel with us and join in the mission, as well Emily Chafins, a physician assistant student and close friend to come volunteer for a few weeks in NYC, It was a whirlwind of a week quitting a job, getting our home ready to leave for a few months, saying many bittersweet goodbyes, and pausing the clinical side of my nurse practitioner education which I wasclose to completing. On Good Friday our crew gathered set sail for New York City. That's right, we literally set sail.

Taylor and I are the fortunate owners of Sailing Vessel Turning Points, a 50' Beneteau Cyclades. Our decision to sail to NYC stemmed from our love for sailing, passion for adventure, a desire to have our own space (both for cleanliness and comfort sake), and to utilize the resources we already have. It seemed rather silly to leave both a house and a yacht behind, so we brought our home on the water which allowed us the space to host the rest of our crew. With the gracious help of the NYC sailing community, we were received as guests by ONE15 Brooklyn Marina for our eight week contract at NYU Langone Brooklyn Hospital. Tom and I traveled with Fusion Medical Staffing, and our recruiter, Pat Overby, pioneered the way for us to get to NYC.

The message was clear: ICU nurses were desperately needed.

At the peak of COVID, the hospital had nearly quadrupled their number of ICU beds due to patient demand. I vividly remember walking into the hospital for the first time and being greeted by three large tractor trailer morgue trucks outside, which I later found out were full. Recovery rooms, medical-surgical nursing (medsurg) flours floors underwent transformation into a temporary intensive care unit. This is why the hospital so desperately needed a plethora of ICU nursing staff to come in to help and take care of the patients that filled these beds.

Thus, Tom and I came with an influx of travel ICU nurses. Not only were the units we were working not intended to be ICUs, but they were staffed by travel nurses who were stranger to the hospital and health system at large. All that being said, each day in an NYC hospital in the middle of COVID was purely unpredictable. In the peak it felt like a chaotic war, like a free for all. We didn't sit down for twelve hours and were lucky if we had a chance to drink water or eat a snack. Our full PPE was worn for 12 hours straight- that includes surgical scrubs, gown, gloves, hair cover, face shield, N95 mask, and surgical mask. It was entirely uncomfortable, however focusing on saving lives, and was a distraction from the difficulty breathing through a week old mask, or straps rubbing my face raw, and sweat pouring down my gowned body. Honestly, it is a relief now to go to work and only have to wear a surgical mask for 12 hours straight, it comparatively feels like facial freedom. To think beyond ourselves for others has been a great reprieve.

Each day in an NYC hospital in the middle of COVID was purely unpredictable. It felt like a chaotic war, like a free for all.

However by mid May, the crazy calmed down significantly. It is a relief to go to work now and only have to wear a surgical mask for 12 hours straight — it feels like facial freedom. To think beyond ourselves for others has been a great reprieve. This is why, amongst many other reasons, it may cause particular angst in a healthcare professional to see the flagrant refusal of people wearing masks in public. We truly believe it is for the good of others to avoid an unnecessary and unknowing spread infection, as well as to protect the weak and vulnerable. Yes, it requires a small amount of personal sacrifice and comfort. Yet it doesn't compare to what the medical front liners must sacrifice as a result of said spread.

5 min read
Self

Lessons Learned and the Power of Turning 50

Except for 16, I have celebrated all of my milestone birthdays in New York City.

I turned 16 in Arnold, Missouri. Arnold is a small town (though not small anymore) 20 miles south of St. Louis. St. Louis is known for the Gateway Arch, a beautiful arch of shiny stainless steel, built by the National Parks Service in 1935 to commemorate Thomas Jefferson's vision of a transcontinental U.S. St. Louis is also known for its custard, a frozen dessert that is so thick, they hand it to you upside down with a spoon inside. Something else about St. Louis you should know is that there is a courthouse just steps from the base of the Gateway Arch where one of the most important cases in history was tried: Dred Scott v. Sanford.

I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive.

Mr. Scott was born into enslavement around 1799 and, in 1830, was sold to a military surgeon who traveled back and forth between his military posts in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was prohibited under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1842 the doctor and Mr. Scott both married, and they, all four, returned to St. Louis. Still enslaved, Dred Scott filed a lawsuit against the doctor's wife for his and his wife Harriet's freedom. We don't know exactly why he chose this moment in time to file a lawsuit, however, he did. At the time of filing his, now, famous lawsuit, he was 50 years old. Ultimately, The Scott family did not gain their freedom, but their profound courage in filling this case helped ignite the Civil War and what we would come to know (or think we know) as freedom from enslavement for all human beings. Powerful then and even more powerful now.

My next milestone was turning 21, and I did it in the Big Apple. Having only moved to "the city that never sleeps" a few months prior, I knew nobody except my new friends, the bus-boys from the restaurant I was working at, Patzo's on the Upper West Side. And, yes, pazzo is actually the correct spelling of the Italian word, which translates to "crazy." Trust me we all had several laughs about the misspelling and the definition going hand in hand. I worked a full shift, closing out at around 11 PM, when, my kitchen team came out from the line with a cake singing, "Cumpleaños Feliz." It was fantastic. And the kindness of these almost-strangers was a powerful reminder of connection then as it still is today almost 29 years later.

I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy.

When I turned 30, I had just finished a European tour with Lucinda Childs dance company. The company had been on tour for months together and were inseparable. We traveled through Paris, Vienna, Lisbon, and Rome. We ate together, we rode on a bus together, we had drinks after shows together, and we even took turns giving company class to get warmed up before a show. It was deeply meaningful and dreamy. We ended the tour back in New York City at BAM, The Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was an incredible way to end the tour, by being on our home court, not to mention I was having an important birthday at the culmination of this already incredible experience.

So, when I invited everyone to join me at Chelsea Pier's Sky Rink to ice skate in late August, I was schooled really quickly that "tour" does not mean you are friends in real life, it means you are tour friends. When the tour ends, so does the relationship. I skated a few laps and then went home. This was a beautiful lesson learned about who your real friends are; it was powerful then as it is today.

Turning 40 was a completely different experience. I was in a serious relationship with my now-husband, Joe. I had just come off of a successful one-woman dance show that I produced, choreographed, and danced in, I had just choreographed a feature film, John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes, with A-list actors, including Kate Winslet and James Gandolfini, who became a dear friend and had even been on the red carpet with Susan Sarandon at the Venice Film Festival for the movie a year earlier.

And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age.

This was a very special birthday, and I had, in those 10 years between 30 and 40, come to cultivate very real friendships with some wonderful colleagues. We all celebrated at a local Italian restaurant, Etcetera Etcetera (who is delivering for those of you in NYC — we order weekly to support them during COVID), a staple in the theater district. Joe and I were (and are) regulars and, of course, wanted to celebrate my 40th with our restaurant family and friends. We were upstairs in the private room, and it was really lovely. Many of those in attendance are no longer with us, including Joe's Dad, Bob Ricci, and my dear friend Jim Gandolfini having transitioned to the other side. Currently, that restaurant is holding on by a thread of loving neighbors and regulars like us. Life is precious. Powerful then and today even more so.

I write this article because I'm turning 50, still in New York City. However, I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive. And I could not be more filled with hope, love, possibility, and power. This year has included an impeachment hearing, a global pandemic, and global protests that are finally giving a larger platform to the Black Lives Matter movement. Being able to fully embody who I am as a woman, a 50-year-old woman who is living fully in purpose, takes the cake, the rink, and the party.

I'm making movies about conversations around race. I've been happily married for 11 years to the love of my life, Joe Ricci. I'm amplifying and elevating the voices of those who have not previously had a platform for speaking out. I choose who to spend time with and how long! I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy. Being 50 is one of the most amazing things I ever thought I could experience. And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age. I'm 50 and powerful. Dred Scott was 50 and powerful. This powerful lesson is for today and tomorrow. We have the power. No matter what age you are, I invite you to use your powerful voice to join me in making the world a better place.