ROANOKE, Va. – As Virginia slowly reopens, a local nurse is urging people in Southwest Virginia to continue to take the coronavirus seriously.
Brittany Jackson is sharing her experiences treating COVID-19 patients in New York, one of the country’s hardest-hit areas, in hopes it can help save lives. Jackson is a nurse at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital and a clinical instructor at Radford University Carilion.
“The virus doesn’t care if you’re old, young, comorbidities, no comorbidities: people died all the same,” Jackson said. “In 11 years of nursing, I have never seen people so sick.”
Jackson said she saw that firsthand for 29 days from April into May when she headed to New York City, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. As COVID-19 cases in Southwest Virginia remained relatively low in March, one of Jackson's friends shared an opportunity to help in the fight in hard-hit New York.
"This was the first time that a tragedy or a problem has been in the world that I could directly impact," Jackson said "Not just giving money. I could directly use the skill sets I have as a nurse and really make an impact."
Jackson was one of the thousands of nurses deployed by Krucial Staffing to help in the COVID-19 fight. Krucial Staffing helps provide emergency and disaster staffing. She flew to New York at the beginning of April and quickly learned her assignment: Elmhurst Hospital, which was overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.
"Pretty much everyone has heard of Elmhurst," Jackson said. "They were the epicenter of the epicenter."
Jackson said the experience often felt surreal. She said some areas of the hospital held double the number of patients they normally would, step down units and medical-surgical floors were turned into intensive care units, and she was often left with physical reminders of the daily efforts to save lives.
"A lot of us were having dryness in our eyes, from the masks, so the amount of sweat and just the amount of protection we had on us, which was very fortunate to have, just took a toll on your body," Jackson said.
Jackson said she is grateful for the tremendous support from family and co-workers during her time in New York. She said her time serving on the COVID-19 frontlines was life-changing.
"I know that I will forever be changed as a nurse, as an individual and it's definitely made me look just at life in general kind of different about what is the future for me and for everyone because this virus definitely has changed everything," Jackson said.
She said we should all work together to fight COVID-19, stay vigilant about handwashing and social distancing and she encourages people to wear masks.
"We have to respect each other," Jackson said. "Maybe it's not what you want to do as far as social distancing or wearing a mask, but we have to know that our choices affect everyone. So you might not personally believe it or think it's the right decision but you need to respect the person next to you that needs that extra level of protection."
Jackson is now looking at ways to help in other COVID-19 hotspots across the country.