EUSTIS, Fla. — Nora Haynes has been a nurse for 30 years. Never has she seen anything like she did during her one month stay in New York, as the state hardest hit by the coronavirus become inundated with sick patients.
Hospitals overwhelmed and morgues simply were unable to keep up with the bodies coming in.
Haynes, of Eustis, is an emergency room nurse, but left her family thinking it would be better to be away from them in the event she contracted the virus, locally.
“Definitely scared. Also, being a nurse and working the emergency room, it was a way to also keep my family safe at the same time,” Haynes told Investigative Reporter Daralene Jones.
Haynes has a documented diary of images from her time working six-hour days, 12-hour night shifts at Coney Island Hospital in New York.
The daily photos were proof her family in Eustis needed to know that she had survived yet another day of treating patients trying to fight COVID-19.
As she walked to the hospital for her daily shift, her husband was there, too, via FaceTime calls. “There was a lot more death than I’d ever care to see in my life again, and I’ve been in the medical field almost 30 years,” Haynes said.
When she arrived in New York in early April, she was assigned to Coney Island based on its need.
At the time, much of the hospital’s staff was sick or had sick relatives. A physician assistant died while she was there.
“They lost several staff members, one while I was working there. The staffing was short. They were sick. Their families were sick. They got hit super, super hard.”
Day one at the hospital, she was given a quick tour of the area where she would be working and some instructions on care.
She told Jones the health care professionals had proper personal protective equipment, during her time, but they had to use the same N-95 mask for five days at a time because there were in short supply.
She described to Jones what the inside of the unit where she worked was like.
“They had two patients per curtained area, one was on a vent, one was on a bi-pap. They were all COVID  positive. And it really did look like a mass unit. A good day for the hospital, I ... to only have eight patients that we tagged and bagged as they called it.” Haynes said.
She went to help during the peak, with cases ranging from 8,000 to 11,000 a day.
There are now more than 338,000 cases across New York state, and the virus has killed nearly 22,000 people.
Nora has tested negative for the antibodies since her return in early May, but she will remain in quarantine until she receives the results of the COVID-19 test.
The hardest part of her journey thus far was watching those infected die alone, something she feels everyone in Central Florida should think about as our communities go back to business as usual, even as the virus lingers.
“Unless they can grasp the magnitude of what this virus can do to somebody and how it can affect those with any type of immune compromised system. There were people who were perfectly healthy in their 40s who didn’t make it,” Haynes said.