CONEY ISLAND, N.Y. — A respiratory therapist from Virginia Beach quit her job in April and was gearing up to help understaffed New York City hospitals overrun with coronavirus cases during the peak of the pandemic. Five weeks later, Darla Grese says she will never be the same because of the experience.
As a contracted member of a rapid response team, Grese left her family and her respiratory therapist job in Norfolk behind to take on the COVID-19 crisis in New York City during its peak of new cases.
She says she planned for the worst-case scenario - and that exactly what she walked into. She says around 75% of the respiratory therapy staff at Coney Island Hospital were out sick with COVID-19 when she was brought in to help.
“I was a little bit frantic after hearing how many staff members went out, but then you know what? After the first couple of shifts, that fear just kind of went away and all of a sudden you walk into this person's room who has a name, and they have a family, and they're sick, and I just need to treat them.”
Some of the toughest days, she says, where when she realized there was nothing more she could do to save her patients.
“When you have a patient taking their last breaths in a bed and you have a family member yelling through an iPad screen trying to wake their family member up, that's something you don't forget.”
Helping her get through the 12- and 13-hour shifts, six and seven days a week, were the strangers she now calls friends.
“There's always a stress hanging over your shoulders regardless of the of the day in the grind, so when you experience that together, you can't help but bond over that."
Even with the pandemic winding down, she still worries the end isn’t near. Grese says she hopes people realize that COVID hasn't gone anywhere.
“If everybody floods the streets and floods the stores and floods pizzerias, I mean, it's going to happen all over again.”
She’s excited for the day she’s no longer needed in New York. She thinks that day is only one or two weeks away. She’s looking forward to reuniting with her family in Virginia Beach, but she has no regrets about the life-changing journey.
“I feel like I did exactly what I needed to do, and I'm very proud about that.”