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Walking into the Fire

Kaiser Permanente nurse Jessica Chase chose to leave the Bay Area to work at the U.S. epicenter of the COVID-19 disaster.

Every evening at 7, Jessica Chase’s neighborhood erupts into cheers for all the hospital professionals caring for patients with the deadly virus COVID-19.

Yet if she’s wearing her scrubs while riding her apartment’s elevator, everyone else gets off.

At home, she isolates her own “hot” clothes, anything she’s worn during one of her 12-hour night shifts at the main campus of NYU Langone Medical Center.

On her precious days off, she calls loved ones. And runs alone late at night, when fewer people are out.

This is the life of a nurse in New York City, which has had by far the largest outbreak in the country, with nearly 185,000 confirmed cases and more than 15,000 deaths as of early May.

The thing about Chase is that she doesn’t work at Langone. She’s a Kaiser Permanente San Francisco nurse who came to help.

Heading Out

Despite never volunteering in a disaster, Chase is a perfect COVID-19 nurse. She is per diem and works in a cardiovascular intensive care unit: She had the flexibility to go and she knows ICU.

“Luckily, we were not experiencing a surge and were well staffed,” she said of her Kaiser Permanente department. “It broke my heart seeing and hearing how overwhelmed New York hospitals were. I was more needed there, so I packed my bags and headed out.”

Chase started at Langone on April 13. More than 100 nurses were in her orientation session. But nothing could prepare them.

“My first shift was startling, to see so many patients so sick,” Chase said. “Some were on ventilators, medication drips, or on dialysis for acute renal failure; prone with their chests down and backs up. All of them were on blood thinners for clotting issues.”

So Much Is Hard

For patients, isolation is frightening and disorienting. For nurses, it’s those things — and exhausting.

“All in all, our patients are complex and critically ill,” Chase said. “We need to limit how many people go in the rooms, so each nurse manages everything alone: bathing, turning, vents, respiratory treatments, tracheostomies.”

“At first, most of our patients were sedated and paralyzed so we weren’t able to communicate with them, only update their families once a day,” she continued. “Now while patients are improving and waking up, it’s hard because they want to see their families. Explaining why they can’t and reorienting them to their situation can be hard emotionally.”

Chase uses the word “hard” a lot.

It’s been hard seeing patients fight to live, day in and day out, and to see patients die alone, without family at their side. It’s been hard to re-use N95 masks, worrying about getting sick.

Giving Our Best

During her month at Langone, Chase said the nurse-patient ratio has improved to 1:2.

There are more victories, like her patient who nearly died but turned the corner. “I got to call her husband and have her talk to him for the first time in nearly a month. That was the greatest feeling.”

Chase’s contract ends Saturday. She’s going home to her fiancé, Wells; their dog, Mona; and her Kaiser Permanente San Francisco team who checked on her regularly. But she won’t be leaving this experience behind — ever.

“I have seen the strength, resilience, and tenacity of these health care professionals and patients, and it is so inspiring,” she said. “I have seen nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and doctors with no prior ICU experience handle some of the most critically ill patients.”

“There is a sense of unity and resilience felt here,” Chase added. “For a lot of people, this has been the most challenging part of our career, but together we have given our best.”


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This Post Has 45 Comments

  1. Bless you for all the patients you’ve blessed, Jessica.

    It would be wonderful if someone in your family who is here, or even you, would come back at “two weeks and a day” just to say, “She’s (I’m) fine”!

    1. Hi, Rick. We will make sure to check back in with Jessica in a couple weeks and report back. That is a great idea! Thank you for reading and take good care.

  2. Thank you for responding to the call when you heard it. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about being in the front line and the leadership you witness in that perspective. Thank you again. PLEASE contact me.

  3. The face of bravery is YOU! Thanks for all that you do to take care of patients during this unbelievably difficult time and to all the health care workers on the front line fighting this battle every day. Heroes in scrubs. KP Proud!

  4. You are a wonderful person risking your life to save others’ lives. Your compassion is outstanding and you are truly an inspiration!
    My deepest thank you.

  5. Hi Jessica,
    Since we just had Nurses Week, you represent the epitome of what a nurse should be. You deserve to have a Florence Nightingale Award, the selfless nurse who cared for the injured soldiers during the Crimean war, only this time it is a different kind of war and the casualties are in enormous amounts.
    God bless, a nurse like you makes me so proud of being a nurse, too.

  6. Jessica I don’t know you but I am a fellow Kaiser Permanente employee in the Central Valley and you represent exactly the people I have been thinking and praying so much for during this ordeal. Thank you so much for putting your self at risk and giving your all when you didn’t even need to. God Bless you and may your rewards be plenty.

  7. I’m so proud of you, Jess!! We are grateful for you stepping up and helping our colleagues in East Coast!

  8. What an amazing nurse you are! Thank you for helping out our colleagues! You are truly an inspiration!

  9. So very proud of you, my friend. Thank you for your service and representing those of us who could not be there to help. Can’t wait to welcome you back home!!

  10. Jessica, I only know you through your mother @ grandmother, but what you did was a wonderful act of love! Thank you for the kind service you extended to the strangers in New York! Paula Floyd

  11. Dear Jessica
    You are an amazing Nurse. I am very sure your story will inspire others nurses. Being a nurse is a calling, no one can choose to do this job without first having compassion. I am very proud of all KP nurses and the work that they do each day. May the good LORD continues to watch over each and everyone of you.
    Blessings to all KP nurses.
    Joann ( South Sacramento)

  12. Way to go, Jess!! This is amazing! Thank you for being a hero and doing your best to fight Covid and heal the world! 🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽

  13. I am so proud of you! This is what nursing is about! Proving that this is the path you were meant to follow!! Love you!!

  14. So proud of you, Jessica!!! You are someone I aspire to be one day! Travel safe and stay healthy.

  15. Jessica, you are an exceptional nurse! Not everyone would be willing to do what you did. You deserve to be recognized during Nurses Week. What a heartwarming and inspirational story. I loved hearing about another Kaiser Permanente employee going above and beyond their duties. Thanks for sharing. May you have safe travels home. Take care. Renee

  16. Beautifully written article about a beautiful and kind person! Thank you for highlighting her work and sacrifice, along with the many others. So proud of you, sis, love you and cannot wait till you come home!

  17. You really are a hero!! So proud of the person you are, putting yourself in harm’s way just to help others. I hope you are truly proud of yourself!

  18. Thank you for representing the Bay Area, Jessica! Praying for your health and safety back home. Blessings.

  19. I am so very proud of you in so many ways, Jessica, and am truly in awe of you! I know that you have said you aren’t doing this to be a hero but you are one. You went to the front lines to give your all to help total strangers and support your fellow health care workers. Can’t wait for you to get home safely. Thank you for all you do. I love you, my girl!

  20. Jessica is a shining example of all the sacrifice, compassion, and adaptability nurses have! She is a such a superstar. Wonderful article highlighting the resiliency and strength nurses have! May we all reflect on our contributions to the nursing profession and bask in the joy of all that we do! Way to go, Jess!

  21. Jessica,
    You’re an exemplary nurse! Jumping in and doing what needs to be done. You should get a medal, or maybe a new Tesla! I applaud you!

  22. I have such admiration for you and all of our KP nurses. Bless you for truly “walking in the fire.”

  23. I am so proud of Jessica! She is the rock in my life, and the rock for so many others in NYC for the last month. I can’t wait to have her back with Mona and I! Until then, keep up the [great] work, Jess!

      1. What a remarkable story, and so beautifully told! I am in awe of our caregivers like Jessica who heroically do what is needed.

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