“There is light in the darkness. Love has overcome as it has before and always will.”

Former Auburn University cheerleader and registered nurse Abby Osborne described what her journey in nursing has been like as a result of COVID-19 for Inside Cheerleading magazine.

From the Sidelines to the Frontlines to Fight COVID-19

In early April, former Auburn University cheerleader and registered nurse Abby Osborne put her thoughts down on paper. She described what her journey in nursing has been like as a result of COVID-19. Going from the sidelines of an Auburn football game, yelling, “War Eagle!” to the crowd, to the front lines fighting COVID-19 in New York City has been a whirlwind. Here’s Abby’s story, in her own words.

“It is the saddest thing I’ve ever witnessed. I work in the recovery room. We’re still recovering a handful of emergent cases, some COVID positive, but for the most part, we are now the non-COVID ICU. My unit has been deployed all over the hospital. At first, I rolled my eyes and laughed at the word ‘deployed.’

I have a deep admiration and appreciation for those who fight for our freedom, so it seemed absurd to call getting a new assignment ‘deployment,’ when it was simply an elevator ride away. One 12-hour shift later, I wasn’t laughing in the slightest. 

Policy and protocols are updated daily, sometimes hourly, as we learn more and adapt to the consequence of COVID-19. We are uncertain, anxious, devastated, grieving, frustrated, isolated, exhausted, wrecked, thankful, hopeful and human. The news hardly illustrates our reality. The hospital is offering boarding in nearby hotels for some, while others are paying out of pocket for Airbnb lodging in the city to avoid exposing children or elderly family members at home. Mothers just off maternity leave are separated from their infants. Families are disjointed. We are tired. 

Our faces are left marked from wearing a mask all day. We are disheartened and displaced. We are in way over our heads. Nurses are working 12-hour shifts without a break. We’re dehydrated as there isn’t a free opportunity to step away to remove our mask for a sip of water or to run to the restroom. Nearly the entire hospital is COVID-positive. 

The patients are so, so sick. They are intubated, on ECMO, proned, and on too many drips to count. The number of “Do Not Resuscitate” code status’ seem to skyrocket. We sit with the 18-year-old deciding if he is willing to be intubated because his parents can’t be there. Family members and visitors are not allowed in our doors. We’re used to wearing many hats, but we’ve become the caretaker, the family, the advocate and the friend of every patient. We assume all roles. We form policy regarding the deceased patients’ belongings. We perform post-mortem care, wash our hands, and enter the next room hoping this outcome is different than the last. 

People are dying without family present. I pass a parking lot full of refrigerated 18-wheelers turned into makeshift morgues on my way to and from the hospital each shift, which underlines, italicizes and highlights the reality of this virus, lest I forget when I am outside hospital walls. They are digging mass graves for the unclaimed bodies.

A number of my coworkers have been working in the hospital since before 2001, and many have said they’ve seen nothing like we’re witnessing now, even following 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. These people are resilient. These people have seen tragedy, withstood despair, survived disaster. It is ugly and dark and painful, and yet there is still good. 

Though we are deployed, we are not alone. We are leaning on, confiding in and trusting strangers. We are doing this together. New Yorkers are built tough, smart, strong in the face of adversity. Or, perhaps we aren’t built this way, but we become these things.

Medical students have been given early diplomas to jump in on the frontlines or are finding ways to aid, by picking up the slack by answering online/telephone services, and by making face shields and masks, both by hand and with 3D printers – which we are still saving and wearing shift after shift after shift. Travelers are providing some relief, the USNS Comfort is docked in the harbor, and there is a make-shift hospital now in Central Park. The encouragement and kindness and prayers and cheers at 7 p.m. ringing out all over Manhattan for essential workers are seen, heard, felt and deeply appreciated. 

We’re testing out new approaches and methods, and we’re being creative and flexible. We are innovative. We are accommodating. We don’t always feel able, but we sure are willing. Patients are being discharged. Some of them are going home to continue healing. People are caring for the sick, the elderly and the hurting. People are staying home. People are really listening for the answer when they ask, “How are you?” People are being good, and they are showing compassion. It is horrifying and seemingly unending. It is so, so bad. But there is light in the darkness. Love has overcome as it has before and always will.

Update on April 27, 2020: Since writing this early in April, things seem to have gotten better. In some ways, I believe it’s because of the changes around the hospital. We’ve adjusted and feel more comfortable working with this patient population and in these conditions. It feels like we have somewhat of a rhythm down. Our teams are very well supported – physically, emotionally, and mentally – and we are still very much in this together! 

Photos courtesy of Abby Osborne and Auburn University