Before I left for Uganda, I was texting with a close friend about this “new virus” that was spreading out from China. China has been improving the infrastructure in Uganda for over a decade (highways to hydropower plants) and with those projects come thousands of expats from China. Because of that relationship between the two countries, Uganda was already screening travelers (just a simple paper to fill out asking if you had a fever) in January. I was cautious, but not worried. Early reports indicated low risk for young and healthy people, so I loosely covered my mouth with a scarf on the planes, washed my hands and didn’t worry. Once I was in Uganda, the virus was continuing to spread in other parts of the world and there was a lot of media coverage and fear, but at that time, I was more concerned for my family at home. I actually “diagnosed” my little sister over the phone while I was working in Uganda because she had come down with a fever, horrible cough and extreme fatigue in the beginning of February (after flying to GA). It took her a few weeks to get over it and we will never know for sure.
I had a really packed year of travel planned for Hydromissions (Uganda, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Tanzania) but as soon as I returned from Uganda, I started to realize that those trips were likely not going to happen. Panama was scheduled for March so that was the first one cancelled. It was a hard decision, initially, because there was so much unknown, but ultimately, Panama closed their borders (as did all my other project countries) which took the call to cancel out of my hands.
Since I am on the Disaster Response roster for Samaritan’s Purse, I was notified that they were going to send a field hospital to Italy specifically for Covid-19 patients. That field hospital was flown in on March 17th and opened March 20th. I thought that I might get called for Italy, but on March 27th I got a call to head to NYC for another field hospital. Construction started on March 29th and the first patients arrived on April 1st. It was a whirlwind working day and night to build the 68-bed field hospital. Although I have been the WaSH (water, sanitation, hygiene) Engineer in the past at a field hospital (Bahamas, Hurricane disaster), this was the first time I was part of the build. It was challenging and exhausting, but the adrenaline kept everyone going and going and going.
My responsibilities ranged from maintaining the water systems to managing the infection prevention and control (IPC) measures. We had an amazing team of volunteers who would figure out how to build whatever was needed to better serve the patients and protect the staff. For the IPC side of things, I worked on the flow for staff moving in and out of the “high risk” zone (the covid patient area) to minimize the spread of infection. I would also oversee and support the medical personnel for the day and night shift as they put on their PPE before shift and carefully removed their PPE afterwards in the “donning and doffing” areas (the zone that separates the “high risk” and “low risk” areas of the field hospital).
The field hospital was staffed with around 80-100 AMAZING people (medical, admin, support, etc). Everyone accepted the deployment knowing that we were entering rather unknown territory (this was the height of the pandemic in the middle of NYC). Samaritan’s Purse pulled on their experience working in Infectious Disease responses (such as Ebola and Cholera) and the staff had the PPE needed to stay protected. Above all, we answered the call to go because we want to be there to love and care for people who were hurting.
I spent 6 weeks – from the first patient in until the last patient out – in NYC. It was a difficult time and there is a lot more I can write about it, but for now, I will just end here. I am privileged to have been able to serve in the midst of that critical time. I know that I was there to love and use the skills I have to glorify the name of Jesus.