All in the Family

Jul 29, 2020

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We help each other bathe patients who have just passed; we help each other hang IV bags that are about to run out; and we help each other get through each passing moment.

Maggie Beyer

During the first surge of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, nurses from around the country volunteered to help on the front lines. Maggie Beyer, a pediatric ICU nurse, and her cousin, Peter Castellano, a nurse in the same unit at Long Island Jewish Hospital, Northwell Health, in Queens, New York, cared for adult ICU patients with COVID-19.

In her own words, Maggie reflects on how the experience strengthened her bond with nursing and with her family.

2020 is the year of the nurse they said, but who knew what that actually meant.

There was nothing that could prepare you in your career for what we actually witnessed. The heartbreak, the despair and working tirelessly around the clock. What were we doing? I didn’t feel like I was able to take care of my patients like usual. I couldn’t get them cleaned and looking nice for family or make sure the room was organized with plenty of supplies. We were always working with limited supplies and machines.

We were the patient’s family. No visitors were allowed during this time, but the patients were never alone. We didn’t even realize how strong we were, how brave we were and how resilient we really were as nurses.

I have been a pediatric ICU nurse for six years and have no experience with adult patients. At the time, the virus wasn’t affecting kids like it was the adult population. So it wasn’t really a question in my mind – I knew I had to help them. That’s what nurses do; we help each other. We help each other bathe patients who have just passed; we help each other hang IV bags that are about to run out; and we help each other get through each moment.

A silver lining seemed to be rare in these days of the coronavirus. However, I was able to find one. My cousin is an experienced adult nurse who had recently taken a job in the same pediatric unit as me, working nights. Nurses who had adult experience were asked if they would go over to take assignments with adults. Of course he accepted right away.

Throughout Long Island Jewish Hospital, there were multiple ICUs filled with COVID-19 patients – multiple units even converted into a makeshift ICU. One night at shift change I saw my cousin walking into the unit I was on, and sure enough he was taking over my patient assignment for the night.

Growing up we didn’t see each other all that much, but working together through this experience brought us closer than ever. I am so grateful for him. He would listen to the hard days I had, and he understood exactly what I was going through. Most times you couldn’t even find words to describe the scene you witnessed. But Peter knew. He knew the words I was trying to say but couldn’t quite form. I was terrified to work in the new, adult population against this new virus everyone was still learning about. But knowing I had Peter by my side made things seem a little bit easier.

The nursing bond is a strong one, but a family nursing bond is even stronger. Indeed, we will forever remember this time in history as the year of the nurse.