In late March, when the pandemic first hit, a group of seven critical care nurses from the Houston VA Medical Center packed up their lives, left their families, and traveled to New Orleans to care for Veterans with COVID-19. These dedicated employees (pictured above) answered a call for VA nurses who were willing to travel to the New Orleans VA, where coronavirus had hit hard.
“When I heard they needed us at our sister VA in New Orleans, I knew I had to go and help the Veterans,” said Crystal Morris, a registered nurse who works in the surgical intensive care unit at the Houston VA. “They were hit by COVID-19 much sooner and much harder than we had been in Houston. I will never forget how grateful the staff were to see us when we got there.”
“When you become a nurse, you make a decision to preserve life”
Jennie Clark, a registered nurse in Houston VA’s critical care unit and an Army Veteran, was happy to volunteer as well. “I think that the adaptability and commitment to a mission that I learned in the military helped me so much when I found myself caring for COVID-19 patients just a few weeks into the pandemic,” she said. “I think when you join the military and when you become a nurse, you make a decision to preserve life and complete your mission, sometimes by putting yourself at risk. It’s just part of the job.”
Upon arriving in New Orleans, the Houston nurses went through a quick orientation and a short training period before caring for COVID-19 patients in the ICU for 14 days. Most of the Veterans they cared for were extremely ill, but the nurses were able to witness some great stories of recovery.
“One of my patients, a younger man with a school-aged daughter, was so ill,” said Morris. “I remember seeing the fear and tears in his eyes when he looked at me, but I just kept encouraging him to keep fighting. When we left New Orleans, he was being taken off the breathing tube and things were looking so much better. It was very uplifting.”
“I gained so many valuable skills”
The Houston VA nurses learned a lot about how to care for COVID-19 patients during their trip to New Orleans. “At the time we went to New Orleans, Houston had not seen many COVID cases,” Clark said. “I feel like I gained so many valuable skills in caring for these Veterans that I will be able to use when caring for patients at our Houston VA. It was eye-opening.”
Morris agreed. “I came back from New Orleans more confident in my skills in caring for COVID-19 patients,” she said. “I also came back truly impressed by our New Orleans VA colleagues. They did an amazing job caring for the Veterans there.”
All seven of the nurses who volunteered to travel to New Orleans are now back in Houston, undergoing a 14-day quarantine.
Morris had such a positive experience volunteering at the New Orleans VA, she volunteered to travel to Arizona through VA’s DEMPS program to care for patients on an Indian Reservation.
“I love my job and I love my Veterans,” Morris said. “It is my honor and privilege to care for them whenever and wherever I am needed.”
Maureen Dyman is the Houston VA communications director.