NEW JERSEY, 14 April 2020 – Nurses across the world are spending more time than anyone tending to COVID-19 patients. The courage of nurses on the frontline of both treating and preventing the spread of the Coronavirus outbreak has drawn praise and give them hero status.
With over 64,500 cases at the time of writing and 2,443 deaths, the state of New Jersey has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases behind New York in the United States.
Working together at one hospital in the state of New Jersey in the fight are three nurses of Croatian descent. Maryann, Melisa, and Katarina are working together at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, Bergen County.
“I was born in the United States, but my parents were born and raised in Susak, Croatia and came to America in 1963. They raised 4 of us here in New Jersey. I’ve been a nurse for over 20 years and have been working for the same Bergen County hospital in New Jersey for 20 years. I work on a medical-surgical floor that has since been converted to an all COVID+ floor. I love being a nurse and it’s what I was called to do,” Maryann (46) explains, before continuing.
“The situation is exactly what they say on TV. I give a lot of credit to the critical care doctors, critical care nurses and respiratory therapists who are really in this, day in and day out. I am on a floor where the not so critical patients are coming in, but that is not to say that we don’t see the bad. I see patients that are fine one hour and then having difficulty breathing the next. I wake up for work and on my drive I tell myself that I can only do so much and do my best to care for each and every one of them.”
Maryann says that before going into a room, she puts on Proper Protective Equipment (PPE) and introduces herself through her mask.
“I assess my patients and talk to them but not as close as I use to. I can see that they are scared and I think they can see the fear in my eyes too. They can see that each time they are able to take a deep breath (while I’m holding mine out of pure anxiety) or turn from side to side or lay on their bellies that I am rooting for them. Do they see that when they crack a joke, I’m smiling and laughing with them? I ask God to bless them every day, every hour, every minute and every second. I leave sometimes feeling defeated like I haven’t done enough, but then I remember my drive in and say I did the very best that I could today. I stayed with my patients and held their hand and sometimes for the last time, I took a breath with them and sometimes for the very last time. I called their families and had them talk with them and sometimes for the very last time. It is not an easy job nor has it gotten any easier. No one wants their patient to pass, but right now this is what everyone is dealing with. Make no mistakes we have discharged patients and when we do it’s a complete celebration. We cheer and clap to no end. Sometimes we cry just because we are so happy for them. It’s emotional all around,” says Maryann.
Maryann says these are not typical days on her floor.
“Sure we had to gown up for isolation patients, but this is now all the time. We never feared to bring this virus back to our homes to our loved ones. We never thought we would have to Facetime, Zoom or Google duo our parents, brothers sisters to wish them a happy birthday or any celebrations. I miss my parents. I miss giving them a hug and a kiss and laughing with them. This has all changed. I can’t and won’t see them until I know 100% that this virus is gone and that I am ok. I fear coming home and giving it to my husband and kids, but I am 100% confident in my nursing skills that I am donning and doffing the right way.”
Maryann says that the support of her co-workers makes her job easier in these trying times.
“They are my backbone, we encourage each other all the time. We are FAMILY. There is nothing like coming to work and seeing everyone going through the same emotion. This is my positive. Everyone praying for us, everyone staying home so that we can work is a positive. People sending food, masks, gloves, head and face shields, these are all positives. My husband, my kids, my family and friends who have sent encouraging texts and praying for me have all been positive. We will all get through this I have no doubt. I will fight and I will continue to fight until God says, “ok Mare u need a break!!!”
Melisa Belusic-Skific (41) is another New Jersey local. She was born in the US which her mother, Meranda Ranj Belusic, originally coming from the village of Kukljica on the island of Ugljan, and her father, Milan Belusic, originally from Kraj Drage in Istria.
“My parents moved to the US as young adults and I am first generation Croatian-American. It will be almost 10 years I have worked here (The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, NJ) and have been a nurse for almost 15 years,” Melisa, who is also working on the COVID+ floor, says.
“Working on the COVID+ floor is difficult. It’s not the regular nursing we are all used to. There is no more freedom to walk around without your mask or protective gear on. You take the small things for granted. Walking in and out of the patient’s room freely without wearing protective gear that is making you sweat. You can barely see, you can barely hear and all the time praying you don’t get sick and bring it home to your family. You silently pray that all your patients get better and you can discharge them back to their loved ones, but sadly you know some of them will never make it home alive. You are grateful you have your health and can help in the fight against the virus. You know in a few hours you will leave the hospital and be with your family again. In less than 48 hours, nursing as we knew it has changed forever. But so has the world. These are things we only read about in history class and now we as nurses are part of history and our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be reading about one day. It is truly the scariest and most amazing thing I have done in my life,” she explains.
Like Maryann, Melisa says that the spirt in the hospital is keeping her going.
“We work together like a family to help everyone out at the hospital. We are all friends that have become family and work together and try to get through our days. We keep thinking of better days and when we can go relax on the beaches of Croatia when this is all over!”
The last of the trio is 25-year-old Katarina Suric from the village of Ninski Stanovi in Nin in the Zadar County.
“I was born in the USA but when I was 1-years-old my parents went back to Croatia. I decided to come back when I was 19-years-old to better myself. I came by myself and all off this is a big adventure for me! I’m a Patient Care Associate in The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood and I’m currently also a nursing student at Bergen Community College. When the pandemic started I was a little afraid, but I can’t be negative too long. I’m usually a very positive person so I believe with my great co-workers we will get through this smoothly. I love the medical field so all of this is going to be a good story one day. I do protect myself to the maximum and absolutely nothing and nobody is going to stop my dreams! I have Rakija so I will be fine!” Katarina jokingly concludes.