Nurse who returned from COVID-19 hotspot in New York shares experience working on frontlines

Nurse who returned from COVID-19 hotspot in New York shares experience working on frontlines
Quai Shepard spoke with KLTV 7's Alex Leroux about her experience working as a registered nurse in New York City. (Source: East Texas Now)

LONGVIEW, Texas (KLTV) - A registered nurse who has served weeks in a city that has become the epicenter of COVID-19 in the U.S. said it was nothing like she had ever experienced in her time as a nurse.

“I’ve been a nurse for six years and it was nothing like I had ever seen before,” said Quai Shepard. “We were literally at war, that’s how it felt. I guess I don’t know what it means to be at war, but it was battle for sure.”

Quai Shepard currently works as an RN at CHRISTUS Good Shepherd in Longview. She does primarily PRN work, so when a friend from nursing school asked her about an opportunity to go to New York and work on the frontlines, she said she was more than willing.

“Like, okay, yeah, let’s go, you know, not really knowing what we were getting ourselves into,” Shepard recalled. “But we were all kind of amped up and ready to go.”

Shepard left for New York City on March 20 and spent six weeks in New York City. She said looking back on her time on the frontlines, she was ill-prepared for what she would encounter.

“It was very terrifying. We were walking into things we had never seen before,” Shepard said. “We had patients who we would be talking to one second, and the next second you walk around the corner to bring them a drink of water or something, and they were dead already.

“It was a very terrifying and emotionally, mentally-draining experience for us all."

Shepard recently arrived back in East Texas to begin her two-week quarantine period.

Although she’s getting some much-deserved rest, the urgency she experienced working had a mental impact that she brought home with her to East Texas.

“I was talking to my mom and talking to my friends about the experience. I know my body needed to rest from being [in New York City], I think about being there all of the time,” she said. “I got so used to rolling out of bed and going and doing it again, hitting the ground running.”

Shepard said she’s being called a hero by some people and she’s having a hard time with that word.

“I’m getting called a hero a lot and it’s hard for me to take that word in because we lost so many patients,” said Shepard. “As a nurse, our job, what we pledge to do is save people and when you’re unable to help a patient and get them better and it’s out of your control despite your every effort to do what you’ve been taught and drilled ... it’s just very difficult.”

Although she witnessed many deaths, she said the patients who recovered gave her hope.

“Being in a situation like that you can’t help but to lose confidence in what you’re doing,” said Shepard. “But anytime we discharged a patient, it not only boosted our confidence but it gave us a little more hope of how we can beat this thing or how we can help patients.”

Shepard realizes most people will never experience what she did in New York, but she hopes everyone understands how truly bad the virus is.

“This disease is so awful, that’s the only word I can use,” said Shepard. “It’s awful, it’s damaging, it’s heartbreaking and it’s real.”

She says she had no regrets about going to New York, but she wishes there weren’t so many deaths.

“I wish we could’ve saved more lives,” said Shepard. “I wish I could’ve helped more and that more lives would’ve been saved.”

Encouraging all nurses to take an opportunity like this is something Shepard suggests for their career and them as a person.

“I think that every nurse should experience what I experienced, should they experience the pandemic the way I experienced they would look at nursing in a completely new light,” said Shepard. “The way nursing is done in New York is not the same way it’s done here. The people of New York are not the same as the people here in Texas. The care is completely different; our sympathy and empathy is completely different, but you’ll never know or understand what I’m saying unless you experience it.”

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