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This is much worse.
That’s the sentiment of an ICU nurse in New Jersey comparing the triage at Ground Zero on 9/11 and the triage care she’s providing during the coronavirus crisis.
“There was that physical impact [of the attack] then and nothing else,” said Anthea Noel, a veteran ICU nurse from St. Michael’s hospital in Newark, N.J., to Fox News. “Now you are seeing a lot of first responders get sick, but what happened then, it isn’t like now.
“Someone comes in [for treatment] and then you have another wave. People come in the next week and another wave the next month and another. That’s what we are seeing with COVID-19.”
Noel added that the triage numbers are staggering.
“When you have a trauma, everything happens at once but with an illness, it’s worse,” she says. “You are seeing the same kind of patient. The same diagnosis so it seems like it’s not stopping.
“I feel as if I’m always questioning myself. Am I doing enough? What more can I do? You always question yourself, but then you realize that you are doing your best.”
“I see things dwindling down now. I see people fatigued. From staff to supplies, things are beginning to die down.”
— Anthea Noel, ICU nurse
Back in 2001, as the World Trade Center towers fell, Noel, at the time a nurse at Brooklyn’s Woodhall Hospital, was dispatched from her nearby home in the Garden State to assist with triage care near Ground Zero at Battery Park. As rescue efforts began among the rubble just a few blocks away, she was tending to the wounded and distraught. It was an all-hands-on deck situation that she thought she wouldn’t endure so early in her career.
“I was home that day and they called me and asked me to go to Liberty State Park to take the ferry over to Ground Zero,” Noel recalled, “and then to Battery Park to draw blood.
“I saw firsthand the bodies. The remains of the people who did not survive. It was chaotic. At that time, I was not mentally ready.”
Nurse Anthea Noel has been working six days a week during the outbreak, spending three days working urgent care at New Jersey area medical centers like Newark’s University Hospital and another three at drive-through testing facilities.
(Courtesy of Anthea Noel)
These days, Noel is working six days a week amid the pandemic, spending three days a week working urgent care within the ICU at Newark’s University Hospital or wherever else she is called to. She spends another three days working at a drive-through testing facility in northern New Jersey. She spends many of those days working up to 18 hours, as she and other health care professionals treat those infected by the coronavirus.
“I work in the clinical care area, where all our patients called test positive,” Noel says. “We are seeing pretty much all ages coming in. Just on Wednesday was the youngest patient I’ve ever seen intubated–29 years old. He came in with the symptoms. He went back home because he wasn’t a severe case. He came back a few days later with severe respiratory issues and needed to go on a ventilator.”
In the month or so since the pandemic reached the U.S., the grim toll of infected has continued to rise. This week the death toll reached its highest point yet, over 10,000 deaths.
As of Monday afternoon, New York City has been the hardest hit region in the country with over 3,000 deaths. Neighboring New Jersey has seen their deaths just breaking 1,000 across the state.
Hospitals in both locations are filled to capacity, keeping health care workers like Noel heading from one emergency room to the next.
“I’m working at another hospital next week just to provide some extra help,” she said. “Because what we are seeing are nurses who are not emergency room being pulled to the ER because we need help. It’s because of the increased volume.”
Noel says that New Jersey hospitals have not seen much of an issue with dwindling personal protective equipment supplies. Her hospital alone received a donation of over $2 million for PPE purposes but that many of her peers throughout the state are having issues.
“I just spoke to someone at another hospital and they were told to use the same mask for the entire shift,” she says. “It’s not safe. They are for one-time use only. We know that’s how they’re designed to be used and there’s a reason for it.”
University Hospital in Newark has had to convert many of their units for critical care to meet with the demand of the pandemic, including their Mother-Baby unit.
“[W]e’re getting more and more admissions every day,” University Hospital President and CEO Shereef Elnahal said in a recent interview with New Jersey Monthly. “We’ve modeled this out for our hospital, and at peak—in terms of the caseload and the surge—we’re expected to have about 100 new admissions per day in our hospital for people with coronavirus.”
Elnahal said in the magazine interview that the crisis is unprecedented.
“We’ve never seen anything like this in terms of the demand for intensive care and critical care.”
The hospital has also had to search for suppliers stocked with PPE and other equipment.
“All the suppliers domestically are now on backorder for so many things,” he said, “so we’re having to go internationally for a lot of this equipment, including vents [ventilators] at this point.”
Noel added that like many others, she’s nervous about the spread of this pandemic and the fatigue she and other healthcare workers are facing as hospital systems are taxed from treating high numbers of infected.
“I see things dwindling down now,” she says. “I see people fatigued. From staff to supplies, things are beginning to die down.
“The boxes are not as full as they were. Staff people are getting fatigued. They have to do something fast. Either call an agency or something, because you can’t close the hospital.”