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In March, when New York City staggered under the weight of the COVID-19 outbreak, the images of refrigerator trucks, overwhelmed hospitals, and outdoor triage centers set Amy Kinder’s caregiving instincts afire. On April 5, 2020, the ER nurse left her home in Kokomo, Indiana and joined the thousands of dedicated nurses who came to work on the city’s frontlines. During her 21 days at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, Kinder formed a tight bond with eight colleagues. Now, the nine nurses have described their experience in a new book, COVID-19 Frontliners.

“I remember my first night in the emergency department I was stopped abruptly in my tracks as I was racing down the hallway. My eyes caught movement in one of my rooms. I stopped to ensure what I was seeing. I had a patient actively dying and the patient next to her reached through the rails of the cot and held her hand trying to comfort her. I felt anguish for these patients. They did not know each other, but they were all alone. They had no one but the stranger beside them.” –Amy Kinder, COVID-19 Frontliners

In an interview with the Kokomo Perspective, Kinder said, “We felt like it was important to get the truth out there because you see on the news so many conflicting stories of what’s really happening or what was going on. So we just felt like it was important to get our frontline experience out there so other people really could see and understand what it really was like—because when I was out in New York, [it seemed] like the news sugarcoated what was really going on.”

As they attempted to communicate with non-English speaking patients, Kinder and the other nurses tried to find their footing amid scenes of chaos: “There were patients everywhere, double and triple stacked in rooms, lining the hallways, right up to the nurses’ station.” She added, “I could not believe what I was seeing. How could this be possible? Where did all of these patients come from? I thought to myself, ‘Damn, this is way worse than what I saw on the news.’”

In addition to dealing with the overcrowding and insufficient PPE supplies, Kinder and her colleagues struggled with a shocking volume of mortalities that sometimes included co-workers: “During the hardest time, we learned how to cope in ways we never had before. Not only were we seeing death in our patients but within our own healthcare family. We lost an agency nurse one night at shift change. She was found down in the bathroom. My heart still hurts for this individual’s family.”

When Kinder returned to Kokomo, she found that the experience had left marks on her psyche. Back on duty at the Ascension St. Vincent ER, “Alarms go off, and I flash back to the horror in NYC. I begin to hyperventilate worrying that we are running out of oxygen again or that a patient is in crisis. I have to talk myself down and remind myself of where I am and that I’m no longer in NYC.”

Her 21 days in New York also left Kinder with a sobering awareness of the realities of COVID. “I knew that it was a big deal, but at the same time I wasn’t really sure how big of a deal it was. There’s so much unknown about this dang virus, so I even was on the fence. But then I come home and people are mouthing, and until you’ve been out there and lived it, it hurts to hear people talk like that…”

For more details on Kinder’s experience, see the story in the Kokomo Perspective.

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Koren Thomas
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