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Danville nurse Sheila Albright terrified by COVID-19 but felt calling to help in New York

Sheila Albright felt called to serve others by volunteering to work in New York and may now be there for 13 weeks.

By LARRY VAUGHT

She’s in New York where the COVID-19 outbreak is greater than anywhere else in the United States, but Danville’s Sheila Albright just felt like that’s where she needed to go.

“I wish I could say that COVID-19 never frightened me, but if I am being honest it terrified me. Upon shift assignments, I would pray silently to myself in hopes that I would not get a patient with symptoms or that was positive,” Alright said.

Yet she still remembers the night a few weeks ago when a “complete calmness” came and the fear was replaced “with a calling” to work with COVID-19 patients.

“I waited and prayed about it, then asked my friend to pray about it with me. She immediately said she wanted to call a friend she had that was a prayer warrior, so that night the three of us shared a conference call as we prayed for God’s will to be met,” Albright said. “They both committed to fasting and praying for three days concerning an answer. However, I knew before I hung up I was going to New York to help my fellow nurses who were holding on by the last thread caring for patients as they faced their own fears daily as well.”

She was already quarantining herself to stay separated from her family to make sure she didn’t infect anyone because of her job. Weekly visits with grandchildren were replaced with phone calls and receiving colored pictures from them. She even avoided neighbors to protect them.

“My life had already been changed with COVID-19 on the rampage,” Albright said.

That’s when she knew she was going to New York. She contacted several staffing agencies and found one that stood out to her. In less than 10 days she was living in Manhattan, working at New York Presbyterian Columbia Hospital, and figuring out what to do for meals and transportation while living out of a hotel.

“Every day gets a bit easier,” Albright said. “I do not get near as lost taking the subway as last week. The soreness of my muscles is easing up or maybe I am just getting used to it.”

Her flight from Lexington to New York only had two other passengers with no drink/snack service as the flight crew remained seated. LaGuardia Airport was basically empty when she landed.

“There were no cabs lined up to pick passengers up since there were only a handful of passengers,” she said. “The homeless are sleeping on the subway during the night because the subway is empty. Only essential workers may travel using it. Now they are closing the subway from 1-5 a.m. to clean in order to keep the subway safe for essential workers.”

Restaurants remain closed as do most hotels. She orders all meals through Uber Eats and they are delivered by a bicyclist to the hotel lobby and placed on a table for her to pick up.

“As I walk into the hospital preparing for my shift, I am greeted with the humming of the refrigerated semi-trailers and tents holding the latest COVID-19 victims. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of walking into a 29 bed ICU Unit that was once a med-surgery floor. Each room has two patients inside them … they are co-ed rooms. With the crisis there was no time or place to consider the sex of the patients,” she said.

“Most are either on ventilators or have received a tracheostomy. The look in their eyes is one that I see as I close my eyes trying to sleep in preparation for my new shift that night. The rooms are silent except for the sounds of mechanical breathing machines.”

Yet she committed to working there eight eights and has already been asked to extend that to 13 weeks. She says the hospital is helping employees deal with stress and she has been “amazed” at how well she has been treated.

“The other nurses are so appreciative of the help as well. They are exhausted, mentally, physically and emotionally. Many are not going home to their families in order to protect them,” Albright said. “There is a tremendous feeling of teamwork all over the hospital.

Subways have very few passengers in New York now.

“The attitudes remain positive in spite of the sadness around us. We hold onto the hope that our patients will recover 100 percent and do all in our power to ensure the best outcomes.”

She says the hospital plays celebratory music if a COVID-19 patient in discharged just like a nursery might celebrate a new birth at the hospital.

“I am by myself, but meeting amazing people willing to walk into the unknown in order to help strangers survive,” she said. “I can’t think of anything more at the moment. I will celebrate Mother’s Day working in the ICU caring for other mothers in hopes they will return to their children soon.

“I have had so much support from family and friends back in Kentucky. It keeps me energized and encourages me throughout the day. I have never felt so loved.”

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