Furloughed Abilene CRNA travels to work on frontline of COVID-19 pandemic in New York City

(Courtesy: Jeannette Garcia)

Jeannette Garcia is just one of several Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A veteran in her industry, Garcia has a Masters of Science and Nurse Anesthesia from Georgetown University and a Doctorate degree in Nurse Anesthesia practice, as well. She went to school through the military and has worked in Abilene for the last ten years.

"I was just working my job like everybody else," said Garcia. "Essentially, I worked at Abilene Regional [Medical Center]. We did a lot of elective cases and pretty much shut down on March 23rd. That's when basically we could no longer do elective cases and several of us were furloughed because the case numbers just went down dramatically."

Garcia was just one of several nurses furloughed due to a major drop off in elective cases at ARMC.

"I mean we went from a very, very busy O.R. to almost doing nothing," said Garcia.

Garcia told KTXS that she didn't have to look long for her next gig.

"I guess I'm a pretty positive person so then you just start thinking of the next step... What can I do next," she said.

The best opportunity came from the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic - New York City; a place Garcia holds close to her heart.

"I was born in New York. I lived there the first ten years of my life," she said. "So I definitely felt an obligation to help out the people of New York, but I've lived in Abilene now for the last ten years."

Through Envisioncare, Garcia was placed at New York Presbyterian Queens, one of the hospitals hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. She was one of about ten nurses deployed.

She remembers her first day in New York well.

"It was a Sunday. It was a cloudy day. It was surreal," Garcia recalled. "I was almost on an empty aircraft landing in New York."

She said, almost immediately, she met up with other nurses in similar situations. The heroes leaned on each other for three weeks straight.

"We ended up become very good friends throughout the stay there, bouncing ideas off of each other, experiences of each other, having dinner together -- so that was very good," said Garcia.

Her first day of work at NYP Queens was surreal.

"The first day was shocking because I had worked ICUs before," she said. "ICUs are very busy, bustling, very noisy places, but this ICU was uncannily quiet. No family, all your patients are intubated. They're all very critically ill. So it kind of took us all aback."

Garcia admitted the frontline of the pandemic was a frightening scene.

"Definitely shock and very sad emotions because, I mean, it doesn't take a genius who has been in medical care to know that a lot of these patients are not gonna make it," said Garcia. "The realization of how critically ill [the patients] were and the realization that realistically some probably wont survive. So it was a lot of sadness and also problem solving."

Garcia leaned on journal writing and Facebook posts to help keep her mind fresh. She also felt a sense of community with other nurses she befriended while working at NYP Queens.

"It was good to talk to other people about this. But once you realize what you're dealing with, you just move on and you deal with the situation," said Garcia.

She worked with nearly two dozen patients. Most were relatively healthy, but in bad condition, according to Garcia.

"The bad thing about this disease is it attacks every organ of the body, it's not just the lungs and the heart," she said. "Honestly just a handful of these patients will probably make it. A lot had died even during the course of my stay. Again, it's not due to bad medical care, it's just the severity of the illness."

Now back home in Abilene after working in New York City for three weeks, Garcia feels gratitude.

"The assignment ended up being a very fulfilling because it brought us right back to medical care - exactly what we were trained to do. Pure medical care," she said.

Garcia is thankful that her and her family are healthy. She tested *negative* twice for COVID-19 - one antibody and one swab test.

"I basically am just enjoying life right now and trying to get my feet back one the ground. Working out, playing golf -- getting the yard and the house back up to par."

Some well deserved rest for just one of our many local heroes. Thank you, Jeannette Garcia!