*Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a series focusing on Lydia Alvarado’s service fighting COVID-19 in New York, and her experience battling the virus.
Lydia Alvarado is not a person to shy away from a challenge. When the opportunity arose to aid in saving lives during the coronavirus outbreak in New York, she jumped at the chance.
Alvarado, who graduated from Alliance High School in 1993, recently returned to the Panhandle after putting her nursing skills to work in New York at the Long Island Jewish Forest Hills Hospital since April.
Alvarado made the decision to become a nurse after a major life change. She said she was influenced at a young age by local nurses she knew: Theresa Dykes and Fern Weida.
“I went to nursing school at the University of Nebraska Medical Center Campus in Scottsbluff,” said Alvarado. “I had grown up having two nurses on the block. They were a great influence. I had memories of them helping out the kids and taking out splinters or teaching how to do shots, which, as a kid, I didn’t understand what nursing was. When I started looking into it, I became much more interested in it. Being able to help other people was a huge draw. It is such a fulfilling career.”
After graduating, she worked at Regional West Medical Center on the medical surgical floor and then worked in the ICU. She has been a travel nurse for the past three years, which gave her the opportunity to help save lives in New York.
“I was on the Alliance Volunteer Fire Department when 9/11 happened,” Alvarado said. “Like most of the country, my heart broke. I wanted so much to go to New York to help those people and help with that travesty. I just wasn’t able to go. So, this time, I was already on the East Coast working on another assignment. We were already dealing with COVID patients, but not to the extent that New York was dealing with them.”
Alvarado said when the pandemic hit, it was an all hands on deck situation, which is why she volunteered to serve.
“It was a calling,” said Alvarado. “You just knew that you had go to help, because the more people that went to help, the more lives that would be saved. I made sure that my recruiter and company knew that that’s what I wanted to do, and we just pushed forward.”
Upon arriving at the Forest Hills Hospital, Alvarado was struck by the scale of the pandemic, noting the high number of patients, and the uncertainty that went with each case.
“Usually in an ICU, you get one to two patients per nurse,” Alvarado said. “You need to be able to change things rapidly. To say that it’s intense, because it’s the intensive care unit, is putting it mildly. In New York, they were easily getting six or more patients per nurse, because it just kept coming. We took over parts of two other floors with makeshift ICU units, and there were at least 24 beds each. Going into work each day, you didn’t know which floor you were going to work on, you didn’t know if your patients were alive from the day before, and you had no idea how many patients you were going to get.
“Several times, there would be, unfortunately someone had passed, and that body was not able to be transported down to a holding truck, even though the new patient to replace that patient was already coming up,” said Alvarado. “Everywhere we went, and everything we touched, we had to consider everything was contaminated by COVID. I can’t even tell you how many people died. There were thousands. The pandemic lasted for six months. Before I got to leave, they had just discharged the 1,000th COVID patient. That was six months, and only 1,000 people survived. That’s a huge amount of death.”
She said the hospital system was overloaded, making life-saving measures difficult. She said coronavirus was difficult to treat because of how it affected people in different ways.
“The thing with COVID is it attacks so many different body systems that it’s really difficult to treat and have a positive outcome, even more so when you don’t have the hands, the skills, the knowledge or the equipment. Many times we ran out of equipment. We ran out of everything all the time,” Alvarado said.
The danger of catching COVID-19 was ever present, Alvarado said. She noted that there was never a time when she was in the clear.
“You never knew if when you were doing compressions or doing CPR if that was going to be the time that you got COVID. You didn’t know if when you were sitting the break room thinking this was a clean area, and you take your mask off to eat your lunch, and somebody walks in and takes their mask off and they say, ‘well, I had a fever a couple days ago, but I’m feeling fine now,’ you were just like, ‘ugh.’ So you would go find somewhere else to eat so that you don’t get it, because the scariest thing would be to end up in that hospital bed.”
When she returned from her service in New York, Alvarado was struck by the lack of concern shown by some people.
“When I walk around here, hardly anybody is wearing masks, they’re not social distancing. It’s just scary to me. I don’t want anything close to what happened in New York to happen here. These are my friends and my loved ones in the Panhandle,” said Alvarado.
She said COVID-19 has a wide range of effects that last longer than the virus. She said having COVID-19 could affect the quality of life.
“A lot of people think they’re going to get it eventually, so they might as well just get it and get it over with.” said Alvarado. “I completely disagree with that. People think this is something like the flu or the cold, and that they’ll just get over it. The difference with COVID is that there is such a cascade going on within your body. It is causing people to have strokes. It is causing people to have heart attacks. It is causing people to have pulmonary embolism and scarring. It’s causing kidneys and livers to not work correctly. We saw toes turning black. We saw limbs turning black. We saw tiny blood clots causing bed sores in different places. It’s not just the flu. You could have something happen with this that will affect your life for the rest of your life. We saw people with absolutely no comorbidities having these issues.”
Alvarado, encourages people to follow the safety guidelines, such as wearing a mask, social distancing and proper hand hygiene in order to prevent an outbreak similar to what she saw in New York.