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Let Me Bless Just One Person: My Harlem Hospital Mission

By: Janae Harris, NP

After being an emergency department and trauma nurse for ten years, I had a deep longing to travel on a healthcare mission for the learning experience. But with five children and a busy career, the timing just never seemed right.

Then the call for healthcare workers willing to travel to New York to support the COVID-19 response came from Krucial Staffing. With my children now grown and the blessing of Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center and Pomona Valley Health Center, I set off for Harlem Hospital, where I would work 12-hour shifts for 21 days straight caring for patients with COVID-19.

I was beyond excited for the opportunity to be part of this important healthcare mission. I was hungry to learn and stretch myself professionally. I kept telling myself, “If I can just bless one life, this will be worth it.”

Every morning at 6 a.m., we would wait outside our hotel in Manhattan, where the streets were eerily deserted, for the charter bus that would take my fellow visiting healthcare workers and me to Harlem Hospital. I was part of a team of six physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners caring for about 20 patients with COVID-19 at a time on a medical floor, not an intensive care unit. At the time, about 90 percent of hospital’s patients were battling COVID-19.  I would come in for my shifts and be energized by patients who were showing progress.

Many of the patients on our floor were alert and able to use their own mobile devices to stay connected with their family members. For others, I would talk to their family members every day to give them updates – and I would reassure the patients that I had talked to their family who sends their love and prayers.

Even in these early days of the pandemic, before they were using convalescent plasma and remdesivir to potentially accelerate recovery, we saw many patients improve and be discharged. But we also witnessed the lives lost by many who fought brave battles against this beastly virus.

I was never nervous about contracting COVID-19 because we had a sufficient supply of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), which I was grateful for every day when I donned my PPE. I also knew that my mother, a prayer warrior, as well as my family and friends at Faith Inspirational Baptist Church in Compton, were making sure the Lord watched over me.

By day 15, I was truly exhausted, but I persevered for six more incredibly rewarding days – bolstered by the love and support of New Yorkers. There is nothing quite like hearing New Yorkers cheering, banging pots and pans and ringing cowbells out of their windows in honor of healthcare workers every night at 7 p.m. They never missed a night!

On our last day, our charter bus received a police escort from the New York Police Department to the hospital. What a deeply moving experience. Before heading into the hospital for our final shift, another colleague and I went into a gourmet cupcake shop to treat ourselves to celebratory cupcakes. Another woman purchasing cupcakes said, “I’d like to buy those for you.” I said, “Are you sure? Because I’m getting four of them.” She said, “I’m sure.”

As I got ready to leave New York, I tested negative for both COVID-19 and the antibodies – it was time to reunite with my family in Southern California.

It feels good to be back home and to see my grown children, who are so proud of me. And it feels good to ease back into work treating nothing more serious than an ingrown toenail.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Anyone who has ever thought of going on a medical or disaster relief mission – jump at the chance when the time is right.

I recently received a phone call from the sister of the first patient with COVID-19 that I had to pronounce. Her 70-year-old brother had a do not resuscitate order. She asked for my address because she wanted to send me a personal thank you for caring for her brother. I knew right then that I had blessed one life. Mission accomplished. But the truth is, I was the one who was blessed many times over for the privilege of caring for patients with COVID-19 during the most significant public health crisis of our lifetimes.

Photo Caption: Janae Harris is a Nurse Practitioner at Pomona Valley Health Center in Claremont. She lives in Carson

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