Written for The Argo by Taylor Anastasio
COVID swept through the country like a wave of death. Walking into work as a seasoned nurse could never have prepared Colleen Anastasio for the despair that was about to unfold. Anastasio has been a nurse at her local community hospital for 33 years and has served as a nurse practitioner for the past two. In three decades of nursing, she says she has never felt so helpless than she did at the start of the COVID crisis.
In March of 2020, the first COVID patients arrived at Centrastate Medical Center, a community medical center in Monmouth County New Jersey, and is now known as one of the hardest-hit hospitals by COVID-19 in the state. Anastasio arrived to work on a cold Sunday night in March to a war zone. All the COVID patients were ventilated, heavily sedated, and receiving several medications through IVs. Anastasio cared for one of the first COVID cases in the state, a member of a local family, who all contracted the virus at a family party and ultimately faced a lot of losses. Five of these family members were cared for at Centrastate, and three passed away there. In total, 11 members of this family contracted the virus, and four lost their fight.
For Anastasio, this horrific outcome and the COVID pandemic’s overall reality has been a flashback to the ’80s AIDS pandemic. She and her colleagues were unsure what they were walking into every day, and she says after work, she would sit in her car, fighting tears and feeling hopeless, trying to remind herself she had to drive home and could not break down.
Since March 2020, patients have poured in, resources became scarce, and the staff got ill. “We were told our PPE would protect us. We thought we were safe, but unbeknownst to me, I still contracted COVID,” she said.
Not only did she contract COVID, but she spread it to her whole family. Her son, Connor, was hit the hardest. He spent every day in bed, sleeping for upwards of 18 hours. Even though he had no preexisting health conditions, he could not do menial tasks such as sit up in bed or walk to the bathroom without severe shortness of breath. Connor stated this was the sickest he had ever been in his life and was lucky to win the fight, unlike many others. Today, Connor is healthy and back to work as a financial analyst.
However, Anastasio says she and her small hospital never gave in and never lost hope, even when times got tough. Centrastate hospital has accepted this as the new “normal.” Although this country is healing and rebuilding, no one will ever forget the wrath of this deadly virus.
Categories: Your Voice