Nurses from Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London and Westerly Hospital in Rhode Island are putting their lives on the line to help the hardest-hit areas of Connecticut during the coronavirus pandemic.
"I did not even think about it," said Laura Arre, a registered nurse at L+M Hospital. "I got the message and something alarmed in my head- oh, yes I have to go. I have to be there. It has to be me."
Nurses Christopher Comfort and Karyn Bessette, who also mainly work at L+M, shared a similar sentiment. They both said they were grateful for the opportunity to help in a time of need.
"Having the ability to pack a bag and get in a car, not many nurses can do that, but I can so, for me it was an easy decision," said Bessette.
The nurses are helping out in their Yale New Haven Health sister hospitals in Greenwich and Bridgeport. According to a spokesperson for L+M Hospital, healthcare workers from L+M Healthcare have covered 234 shifts at Bridgeport and Greenwich Hospitals, totaling more than 3,300 hours.
The spokesperson added that 39 registered nurses were deployed in addition to five health care workers of varying disciplines ranging from physical therapy to respiratory therapy.
Comfort, an RN who has worked at L+M since 1999, said that he has never seen patients that are this sick.
"You just see the fear in their eyes and they are very scared," said Comfort.
"These patients need to be cared for. They are extremely vulnerable. They are sick, they are scared. They are lonely," said Bessette, who has been a floater nurse at L+M for three years. "At a time when they really need their families most, they can’t be there. And we are the ones that are there for them. I am happy to be there.”
The team said that they were happy to not only help the patients, but help the health care workers in need of relief.
"Some of them have gotten sick themselves," said Arre. "They are tired, they are scared."
Bessette, Comfort and Arre all agreed that any apprehension or concern about getting sick or getting loved ones sick was outweighed by their desire to help.
"These people are sick. There is really no time to be fearful," said Comfort. "You just have to be the safest that you can be."
They said that the most difficult parts of working at Greenwich and Bridgeport Hospitals is seeing people suffer alone.
"Watching and listening to families say goodbyes from an iPad is heartbreaking," said Bessette. "It is very hard for them and it is hard for us to watch too.”
Comfort said that he is grateful for moments where he can be there for patients who are alone. He said that he had a patient in her 90s who was having a hard time.
"I just stayed there and held her hand. All she said was thank you so much for holding my hand," said Comfort. "I was grateful for that because she doesn't know me, she is just scared."
For Arre, it all hits closer to home. While she was working to help others, she received devastating news about her own cousin who was fighting the virus in a Brooklyn, New York hospital.
“After my last shift, I got the phone call that she died. As sad as I was, it just sort of reinforced to me that I was where I needed to be," said Arre. "I couldn’t be with her. I wanted to be with her and I couldn’t, but this is what I could do. "
Even after the worst lows, the nurses acknowledged high moments that they cling to for help moving forward.
“Every time a patient is discharged from the hospital, Greenwich and Bridgeport has been playing 'Here Comes the Sun'," explained Bessette.
"Every time I heard that song, it lifted me up. Sometimes it made me cry, but it was a happy tear," said Arre.
Arre is back working at Lawrence + Memorial after two weeks at Greenwich Hospital. Comfort is on his third week at Greenwich. After spending two weeks in a hotel in Greenwich, Bessette is now working at Bridgeport, commuting from home every day.
In a time where everyone is calling healthcare workers "heroes," these three disagree.
“It is really the patients," said Comfort. "They are the ones that are surviving."