As you can probably imagine from all that Hollywood makes it out to be, New York is a very “hustle-bustle” city. It was strange to see it go so quiet. Almost eerie. The subways which were once packed with a mixture of tourists & NY natives, were now empty. You could have an entire train cart to yourself at times, when usually, you’d be lucky to have a seat! However, there was also a sense of community during that period, as everyone around you was likely “essential,” whether those were medical or hospital employees or those working in grocery stores to provide food and supplies. The city was quiet and still.
Governor Cuomo had sent several emails to all medical providers registered in the state asking for assistance in COVID. I had the opportunity to serve on the frontlines when our practice was forced to close its doors due to low volume. Thousands of us volunteered. Healthcare providers and nurses from all over the country! From my group specifically we had California, New York, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and Kentucky! We were all placed in various hotels around Manhattan. When we arrived, we were briefed on the emergency situation, and that we should be prepared to be placed at a hospital at a moment’s notice. The very next morning at 5:00 AM, a loud knock and a slip of paper under my door determined my fate: Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn. Within 15 minutes I was on a bus with my new colleagues in the early morning hours headed to the hospital. It was fairly quiet on the way. Everyone was nervous about what was to come.
Upon arrival, we were fit-tested for our N95 respirator masks, given full personal protective equipment, and led straight to the ER. Nothing could have prepared us for what came next. Once the doors opened everything became very real. We quickly met the hospital staff. The overwhelming relief that help was here was both a terrifying and happy feeling. These were people who had been working day in and day out to serve others and there was little to no sleep among them. The overall goal was to be able to come in, help in any way we can, and to hopefully relieve those who had been fighting to exhaustion before our arrival. We put our training to work quickly, and continued to do so for the entirety of our employment.
Words cannot describe what was happening not only to the patient’s fighting COVID, but to their families waiting, who were unable to even enter the hospital, let alone speak to, hold the hand of, or comfort their family member. In any spare minute we had we also knew we had to be those people for them. Their family. We witnessed immense sacrifice, and unbelievable decisions that had to be made within minutes and sometimes even seconds. Decisions that would change the course of not only the patient’s life, but also their family and friends. We walked away that first night in shock. There was no quitting. It was easy to see how much help was needed and we wondered if we would even be enough. An overflow ER tent was built within days due to the mass influx of COVID patients that the ER could not hold. We returned each day doing all we could to lend a hand.
Working at Coney Island was a mix of so many emotions. It’s hard to put into words. What resonated the most, is life is really is fleeting. Our family is everything. There is power in numbers and two-plus brains is better than one. We all know that being a part of a team and being a team player is important, but this experience brought the reasons behind this to fruition. No one can beat this alone—we are all in this together. I was blessed with the opportunity to serve alongside other healthcare professionals from all over the country and the camaraderie will be near and dear to my heart forever.
This post was written by our newest team member, Christina Fundingsland, Physician Assistant, about the six weeks she spent working in Coney Island ER treating COVID-19 patients.