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June 17, 2020

Behind the mask: Erin Z., HIV Nurse

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First responders from across the country have answered the call to serve in areas most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. KC CARE was so proud to support one of our own in answering that call.

Erin Z. has worked for KC CARE since January of this year after finding out about us from a friend and fellow employee. But before that, she was a traveling ER nurse – just the kind of experience that made her a good fit for making an impact in this moment. Now Erin works as a Registered Nurse Care Manager with our patients living with HIV.

Erin graciously shared some of her experience with us and what she wants you to know now.

How did you get the opportunity to help support frontline workers in NYC?

As a former traveling nurse, I was a member of a couple related groups on Facebook. One staffing company was posting its need for 500 nurses each day.

How long were you in New York? Where were you working while there? And what was your day-to-day life like during your time there?

I was in NYC for 21 days. I worked at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York while I was there.

We were given assignments by the state of New York, so it was a little hectic. On Day 3, I was assigned to Kings County i, HIVn the Emergency Room (ED) and ED observation unit. For my first two weeks, I was an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse in a makeshift unit for intubated COVID-19 patients.

Many of our patients did not make it. We had two successful recoveries while I was there. A lot of heartbreaking goodbyes from families over the phone or video calls that were not allowed to be at the bedside of their loved ones.

During the third week I was in their Critical Care Trauma Unit which is part of their Emergency Room. We took care of the sickest people in the hospital as well as the traumas that came in. This is my area of expertise, and I felt much more prepared for this type of care compared to the ICU observation ward.

What do you wish our patients and people in Kansas City knew about your experience?

I want people to understand that COVID-19 is very real. If there are a large amount of people dealing with COVID-19 in your area, any healthcare system will run out of resources to help you live through the experience.

Care about your loved ones and the strangers on the street. You might be healthy enough to never know you have it, but you could also kill the person next to you. Be cautious and love the people around you.

Do you worry that patients and members of the community aren’t taking this pandemic seriously?

Every day. I constantly talk to my own friends and family and anyone that will listen that this is real, and the right precautions need to remain in place. The average person walking around should wear a mask if they are going to be within 6 feet of people. Just be smart.

What else do you want to share about your experience in New York?

Nurses came from around the country literally in a day’s notice. Many nurses came home after this traumatic experience only to find that they have been fired from their normal positions. I am lucky enough I work at KC CARE, a place that stepped up and did everything they could to make sure this could happen. I am forever grateful for this organization and the support I have received from every coworker I have. I came back to work and never missed a beat. I was also tested twice with no questions asked for my own peace of mind.

What is it like to now be back in Kansas City? How was the comedown while you were in quarantine when you returned?

Quarantine was very lonely. Two weeks in a hotel sounds like a great time, but when you just come from so much death and trauma, being left with only your own thoughts is hard. Reach out to the people in your lives just so they know you are there and you care.

I came back with a new feeling of love for my city. I love KC and the opportunities and all the people in our community.

What is it like to be back to work at KC CARE? And also to participate in the community testing events KC CARE is doing with the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department?

It is much less intense in Kansas City, and I am enjoying that at the moment. Much happier outcomes, and I’m glad to be here.

The testing events have been fun. We have all come together to test as many people in our community that we can. We are lucky to be able to offer this free service to our community.

To support the work of Erin and her team – and all of KC CARE’s staff, text HELPKC to 44-321 or click here to make a donation today.