Mayor Adams has lifted the vaccine mandates and mask mandates in most settings. Javits and the other vaccine mega sites are all closed or closing. My temp agency has informed me that the NYC HSS Shelter Immunization and Testing Projects are winding down. The Medical Reserve Corps of New York City and Suffolk Counties re-upped for the Omicron surge, but are now back to restarting long delayed drills and trainings for future disasters. There are no lines in front of urgent care centers, and no pop up testing sites. The New York Recovery Network (NYRN) has an active schedule of nursing and medical missions in South and Central America, India and Nepal, Egypt, Thailand, and West Africa for 2022. We’re packing up supplies this weekend to send to Ukraine, and I would not be surprised if there will be a deployment there or one of the neighboring countries providing refugee assistance, and my name will go on that roster.
I “retired”in 2020 because I was afraid for my life, not because of crime but rather negligence, and was fortunate to find per diem employers, including New York City and New York State, that were able to provide staff with adequate PPE and emotional support. Now, I’ve slipped back into somewhat of a routine with all the other hospital based, battle hardened nurses, doctors, and awesome support staff working with immigrants and high risk families–though just about every family is high risk at this point after all the pandemic pressures.
The COVID 19 ramp up was so steep we were at risk of falling to our deaths and thus this escalator down seems way too fast. It makes sense that since 77% of New York City residents are fully vaccinated, it seems reasonable to not require proof of vaccination as of the date of this writing. The 23% of persons at most risk of infection (the unvaccinated), generally won’t wear masks without a fight and shouldn’t be allowed the platform to disrupt COVID recovery more than they already have. But please allow health care workers and those with high risk conditions the courtesy of masking without drama when asked because the burden of disease, both physical and psychological, is very heavy and we are very tired and post traumatic stress disordered.
What got us through? The 7 PM clapping was thoughtful though most didn’t hear it above the monitors beeping, repetitive hospital overhead code calls, crash carts careening down halls and bumping into walls. The food that showed up unordered three times a day for months was most welcome. Health care workers relied on each other like never before, and we did our best, but there were too many of our colleagues who died of COVID–or suicide. President Biden’s remarks after his inauguration not only gave us thanks–but provided assurance that the ship was now under the control of a sane and competent captain and crew even as the waves of unrest and needless deaths of persons of color threatened to swamp the lifeboats. Enough politics, though all of that needed to be said so the negative energy can be discharged.
I want to thank all the drivers and escorts, the administrators and tech support specialists, the physicians, my fellow nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians assistants and medical assistants with whom I have crossed paths, even if it was in the elevators. We were thrown together on a daily basis, and yet safely vaccinated and tested thousands of the most vulnerable men, women and children in New York. I rode the Long Island Railroad on the 4:45 am or 4:55 pm trains to Javits for both day and night 12 hour shifts. I drove to places in The Bronx I had never been, found parking (God was obviously on my side), and took my co workers home at 10 pm because the subways are in very bad shape right now.
I now know more about neighborhoods in Brooklyn than I thought possible. And places in Queens near the penultimate stop on the A Train that took as long as my trips to Brentwood and Riverhead in Eastern Suffolk. I braved the subway to East Harlem (even God could’t help with parking there) where the garbage bags teeming with rats were piled as high as the first story windows. And to get home, I copped a ride with the driver to Barclays in Brooklyn for a two hour odyssey on the Long Island Railroad and Number 7 train (creepy station to wait in, but there were transit cops and a booth clerk on duty) to get back to Queens, because even this bad-ass, who survived the South Bronx in the 1970s and 1980s, was afraid to go down the steps on the 1-2-3 past all the spaced out addicts shambling around.
There was a considerable amount of bonding at JAVAX on those very long shifts surrounded by the US Army Reservists guarding the vaccine supplies. Annette, we hit it off right away despite you being from Brooklyn and me from the Bronx. Not only could you get clients registered in a flash, you held hands and distracted the terrified, calmed the agitated, and help soothe the grieving. Michael, you’re from the Bronx too, so I speak your language. You reminded me of my son (about the same age) with your stand up comic humor that would morph immediately to kind and dignified questioning to obtain needed information from clients who had been waiting in line for hours for their shots. Aaron, I hope that I will get to see you in one of the off-Broadway shows or find you waiting tables in one of the Greenwich Village restaurants that survived the pandemic. Percy, you are both kind and courageous. You and Devonne saved that man’s life with quick, heroic action. And Diana, when you “click” with someone you’ve met only twice, it’s always a good day. Dimitri, I think you’re from Ukraine and if I’m correct, I hope that you and yours are okay.
I’ve only hit the highlights here. All the people I volunteered and/or worked with, no matter what their role, were typical New Yorkers who rose to the occasion, doing whatever needed to be done–and then some. And to the thousands or so I jabbed, and who murmured your appreciation, blew kisses, offered blessings, and squeezed my left elbow so your arm would be relaxed when I injected the vaccine, thanks for trusting us, and science.