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'Like a war zone': Utah nurse describes grim reality of COVID-19 relief in NYC

Utah Nurse Haley Jangard wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) in a New York hospital
Posted at 9:20 PM, Apr 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-04 17:53:48-04

NEW YORK CITY — Earlier this month, Intermountain Healthcare sent 100 employees to New York City to assist healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 hotspot.

Almost two weeks ago, Haley Jangard dropped everything to go help caregivers at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

She talked about the reality of the situation there — a harsh reminder that the statistics are not just numbers.

"The best way I can describe it is it's honestly like a war zone," she said.

Jangard spoke about how everything she thought was untrue or overhyped was actually the grim reality.

"When I got there, there was like nobody in the airport... You come up to the hospital and you get cold all of the sudden because there are literally body trucks that were holding the bodies in because we don't have enough room, because everybody is dying and the morgue doesn't have enough room," she said. "You hear on the news [about] the body trucks, and I didn't think that was a real thing."

The hardest part about it all, she says, is the patients not dying with the comfort of their loved ones.

"I've seen people die — that's not something new to me," she said. "But what is new to me is people dying alone. You'll walk in and the patient had died alone, or I guess with a roommate they've never met, they died with patient A or patient B next to them."

The emotional pain is accompanied by the physical pain she gets from wearing the PPE for over 12 hours a day.

"My cheeks were all raw and red and hives and then when I woke up this morning there was like pus on my pillow from my checks being raw right here," she said. "The bridge of your nose here, when I push it, it's pretty bruised and you'll get like pressure ulcers behind your ears here where the mask is."

There are glimpses of hope throughout the day, the little things that keep Jangard going. Five minutes dedicated to honoring healthcare workers happens everyday at 7 p.m. all around the city.

"All of the houses and the apartments at seven o'clock, everyone comes out their window and bangs pots and pans for five minutes for the health care providers," she said. "It's incredible."

She also said that a couple times a day she will hear the The Black Eyed Peas song, "I Gotta Feeling," play on the intercom. The song plays every time someone has been successfully removed from a ventilator or discharged.

"You'll see everyone hop on to the balcony and look over and everybody wants to see the patient successfully leave the hospital," she said.

Jangard and many other caregivers from Intermountain Healthcare will return on May 2, using their experience to help patients in Utah.

"People need to step up. You've got to step up to the plate because if everybody runs from the disease ... nothing is going to get solved," Jangard said. "We need people like the nurses in New York — they step up, they've been doing this for six weeks and they've been doing this every single day."

"I thought if I share this, maybe people can understand how real this really is. They don't want their loved one to be the one in the hospital that has to die alone and they don't get their brief phone call because we are out of iPads," she said.