Local respiratory therapist reflects on treating COVID-19 patients in NYC

Coronavirus

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Darla Grese had just left her job of 17 years as a respiratory therapist at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital when WAVY last spoke with her.

The former Navy corpsman had just arrived in New York City in mid-April for her orientation at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, a temporary hospital treating COVID-19 patients.

WAVY News Anchor Tom Schaad spoke with Grese in between shifts at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, where she takes on grueling six-day weeks at ground-zero of the nation’s war on coronavirus.

“When you walk into these rooms, you’re very aware of what you’re walking into… It’s very scary, and it’s very sad, and it’s very emotional, and it challenges you in a way that, I think, I’ve never been challenged this way for sure.”

The photos she sent to WAVY show a smile that masks some of that sadness. She is surrounded by new colleagues who also descended on New York City determined to help defeat a silent enemy that has taken aim at our collective social and economic foundation.

“There’s a different level of stress that comes with this because you are put into this situation with other staff members who you really don’t know… I’m working with therapists from Arizona, and from Georgia, and from Miami and from all over.  It’s really neat to come into an experience like this and come together as a team.”

As of 6 p.m. Friday, more than 13,000 people had died from coronavirus in New York City, or nearly 21 percent of the deaths in the U.S.

But for Grese, one life lost is too many.

“A couple days ago, I lost a patient, and it wasn’t an elderly patient. I mean the patient was in his 50s, and that shouldn’t happen. And so that was tough. It was already a tiring day, and it was a busy day, and so that was a hard day.”

Encouraging messages from Grese’s 12-year-old son and her wife keep her grounded during this six-week assignment.

Grese looks forward to that one day off “that rejuvenates you and do that one load of laundry.”

Although the work brings “a different level of anxiety,” she does not regret her decision to take her skills where they were needed most.

“From day one, it was a no-brainer. It’s something that I had to do,” she said.


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