COVID-19: How US-based Nigerian mother and daughter nurses survived on the frontline

Whatapp News





Spread the love

A Nigerian mother and her daughter who are both nurses in the United States of America, Uchenna Onyia and Ona Onyia, were recently celebrated on Mothers’ Day/ Nurses’ Week by a popular American TV host, Jimmy Kimmel and famous American actress, Courteney Cox, for their contributions towards saving the lives of COVID-19 patients in New York.

The duo who hail from Anambra State were declared the latest health care heroines for their feat after they were deployed from Arkansas to New York in April to help save lives. They were rewarded with $10,000 each during the Jimmy Kimmel Live T.V show.

The daughter, Ona Onyia, a Covid-ICU nurse in New York, told our correspondent via an instagram chat that a pandemic of the proportion of the current coronavirus was the last she anticipated when she started her nursing career about two years ago.

But even though it was not a challenge she anticipated, Onyia put her personal safety and security aside and gladly accepted the task of saving the lives of infected people when the Coronavirus pandemic broke out in the US.

She said: “I was actually deployed to NYC (New York City), the world’s epicenter of Covid-19, last month. Never in a million years would I have thought, I would experience a pandemic in my lifetime, not to talk of being a nurse in one. I have officially completed 21/21 nights of working here in NYC as a Covid-ICU nurse.

“I worked 21 nights straight (12-hour shifts) with one day off. This assignment pushed me completely out of my comfort zone and I had to remind myself that sometimes seeking discomfort and taking risks will cause you to grow.

“This experience has been mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. I’ve seen more people die in 21 days than I’ve ever seen in my entire nursing career. I’ve seen people going from talking to being put on the ventilator within minutes.

People are dying alone because no family is allowed in the hospital.”

She recalled, however, that her experience has been a mixture of good and bad days.

“I have seen patients discharged and able to reunite with their families,” she said. But to say all this, I’m just happy to be here. This experience continues to be extremely rewarding in so many ways.”

Asked if she has lost any patient under her care, she said: “I have had eight patients die under my care since I’ve been here the past month and a half. I’ve seen more people die here than I’ve ever seen in my two-year nursing career.

“It is heartbreaking seeing so many people pass away. I can’t really put into words how I feel, but this disease does not discriminate. It is affecting every race, age and gender!

“Many people are dying from this disease and they are dying alone. No family is allowed in the hospital. They are dying among strangers like us. It hurts me because I can’t imagine my family not being at my bedside during my sickest moments.

“This experience has humbled me and it has tested me physically, mentally and emotionally. Within a matter of months the world has turned into something we see in science-fiction movies!

“A lot of people in the area my hospital is located already had underlying conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity and asthma! So that put them at a high fatality risk by itself!”

While she is saddened by the cases of patients who have died in her care, Onyia is also delighted to have some of them recover from the virus.

“There was a patient I had for three straight weeks. She was on the ventilator for three weeks while under my care. She got discharged on the fourth week and that was the first patient I saw off the ventilator.

“When I came to work the next day, I was so shocked. I cried because I was so happy! I told her that I’ve never seen someone get extubated yet! She continued to laugh and cry with me.

“I quickly called her family and she was so happy to see them. She kept telling me thank you for being my nurse, and thank you for what you did to save my life.

“In that moment, I knew that I made a difference while working here in NYC. I knew that every little thing that got us to that very moment was the perfect thing to do.”

Asked whether any of her patients is a Nigerian, she replied in the negative.

She said: “None of my patients has been a Nigerian! The majority of the patients I take care of are either from the Caribbean, Central America or South America.

“When I started work (at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx), I would have 5-6 intubated patients! Now I have 1-2 patients at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens.

“I have also decided to extend my stay here in NYC to continue to assist in this fight against Covid-19.”

Despite her interest in saving infected peoples’ lives, she said that undertaking the task has not been without fears.

“I’ve been worried about possibly contracting the virus. I am always careful when wearing and taking off my PPE. I have learned to do it so well because there’s no room for mistakes.

“I am taking my vitamins here consistently. I have even started receiving IV vitamin infusions to boost my immune system. I’m constantly washing my hands such that my hands are now peeling. I have skin breakdown on my nose from wearing my N95 for 12 hours a day.

“I have to put a Band-Aid at the bridge of my nose every day I come to work just to prevent the skin from falling off.

“My hospital has always had the necessary PPE for us to work with. The agency that I work for here in NY told us that they don’t have the necessary PPE and that we should go back to our hotel but we will still be paid.

“The governor of New York, however, required that we have the necessary PPE to work and we got a new N95 mask every day! So I have never re-used PPE while here in NYC.”

In a fit of humility, Onyia does not see her success as a personal effort. For her, the job would not have been easy without the contributions of her team members.

She said: “I am also so thankful to be working alongside a team of resilient, brilliant and selfless healthcare workers who flew in from all over the country to help NYC fight this virus.

I have a great team. We’re always looking out for each other, because we rely on one another to get through this.

“This experience continues to change me every day and I’m so thankful to God for keeping me healthy and continuing to give me the strength to assist out here.

“I know that it is difficult for those that are not affected personally by this to fully understand, but it is very much real. I didn’t realise how bad it was until I got here.

“It is a very difficult and uncertain time for all of us but thanks to everyone for continuing to practice social distancing and assisting to flatten the curve.

“I have also decided to extend my stay here in NYC to continue to assist in this fight against Covid-19.”

‘How we departed Nigeria’

Reacting to her mother’s remark while on Jimmy Kimmel Live T.V show that she went to the states (US) after she had a failed marriage in Nigeria, the soft spoken Onyia recounted how her mother brazed the odds to take care of her and her two other siblings.

She said: “My mum and I decided to leave Nigeria back in 2002! It was my mum and I with two other of my siblings. The journey has been incredible. I’m thankful for this journey!

“Things have not always been peaches and cream, but every step we made led us to this point.

“My siblings and I never lacked. My mother always provided us with what we wanted and what we needed.

“She would work two to three jobs at a time to provide for us while she was in nursing school. Some days she would work 16-hour shifts and still find time to cook meals for us and make sure we had our school work done.

“When we moved to America, she worked at Taco Bell and Waffle House. It is the equivalent to Mr. Biggs in Nigeria. She then became a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant), LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse), an RN (Registered Nurse), and lastly an NP (nurse practitioner).

“She did this all while raising three kids singlehandedly! She is the strongest woman I have ever known. I am from Udi in Enugu State, but my mother is from Anambra State.

“Yes, my mum definitely inspired me into choosing this career choice. I’ve been here in the US for 18 years now. I didn’t cross many challenges to get to this stage.

“I’ve always been a determined and hard worker. Excelling in school was always very important to me. I am currently pursuing a Nurse Practitioner Degree (NP).

“I was so excited to begin my nursing journey! I began working at an Intensive Care Unit post graduate on getting my BSN. I’ve learned so much in the ICU!

‘Why we were celebrated’

Asked how she felt to have been recognized as a health care heroin in America by a popular journalist Jimmy Kimmel and famous American actress Courteney Cox, she said: “I am thankful that Jimmy Kimmel reached out to me and had my mum and I on his TV show. I also appreciate the surprise New York pizza I got from American actress Courteney Cox in my hotel room in New York.

“We were also given hand sanitizers and skincare gift boxes for all the other nurses in their units.

“Jimmy Kimmel actually did a segment for Mother’s Day to recognize my mother and me as frontline workers. My staffing agency also celebrated us as well on Nurse’s week!

“So it was a Mother’s Day/Nurse’s week thing. I am grateful to God for giving me this opportunity to assist in healing people and having a positive impact on their lives.

“Being a nurse is about having a passion and doing it with purpose. Nursing is my passion.

“It is nice to hear how appreciated we are and being referred to as heroes. But honestly, I don’t feel that way. I just feel like I’m doing my job and assisting people in their sickest moments.

“This experience has been very humbling and I’m grateful God has kept me healthy and safe while here to continue to do his work.

“If given the opportunity, I would love to come back home to practice and use the experience I have received here in the U.S. to assist and help in Nigeria.”

Expressing her views on how Nigeria is containing the COVID-19 pandemic, she said:

“I feel like Nigeria is heading down a dangerous path. I don’t feel like Nigeria is doing enough. Masks should be enforced before entering any public building. Restaurants should only offer take-out options.

“People should be six feet apart at any given time, practicing social distancing. It seems like people are going about their daily routine as if nothing has happened.

“I want Nigeria to learn from Italy, Spain and New York City. Please use them as a lesson. The people in these different countries/states suffered in bodies.

“Nigeria cannot handle what other parts of the world are going through. Nigeria. There are not enough ventilators if there is a huge hit in the country.

“Ninety per cent of the patients I took care of in NYC were on ventilator. On the Covid ICU unit I worked on, 28/30 patients were on ventilators.

“I’ve seen people die with absolutely no past medical history. I’ve been in a situation where doctor chose not to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on a patient because while coding a patient we are at a higher risk of infecting ourselves than doing any good.

“This disease affects the lungs so badly that we rather put a person with a critical condition on the ventilator because we know that if we do, there is 80% chance of them not coming off the ventilator.”

She advised that Nigeria should impose harsher restrictions till “we get more testing to everyone and have a vaccine for this virus.

The Nation


Spread the love

Whatapp News