San Antonio – A San Antonio Registered Nurse who spent nearly 50 days in New York City helping an overwhelmed hospital battle Covid-19 was given a welcome back surprise from her family right outside her hotel.
Erika Barrera is now in quarantine at that hotel, but that didn’t stop her loved ones, including her husband and five children, from gathering with posters of love and support.
“I love my family,” Barrera said. “I haven’t seen them this entire time. I love my children. I turned the corner and saw everyone. It was so exciting.”
Barrera made the decision to go to New York on April 3.
“I am glad I took the journey,” Barrera said. “It was a little scary at first. Seeing it all on the news and hearing the governor speak in New York and the cases rising and how much the need for help was. Nurses were exhausted and they needed any kind of help from any health care worker. I have always wanted to do travel nursing, so I knew that was my calling. I needed to go. I need to help in any way I could.”
After long talks with her family who supported her decision, she left for New York.
“When I got there, there were no people in the streets,” Barrera said. “I have never been to the city before, but I knew about it and it was a little scary seeing nobody in the streets.”
She said the hospital where she worked was so overwhelmed.
“There were so many patients,” Barrera said. “My unit was originally made for rehab where patients would do physical therapy. They turned it into a hospice unit where they brought patients in, knowing they were going to pass. They contacted their families and they had the opportunity to go in and spend the last moments with their loved ones. That made it a little more bearable with the situation because, on the bright side, they got to spend their last moment with their loved ones no matter how small it was. It was very touching.”
Barrera said she wore PPE strictly.
“They provided us with our own N-95 masks,” Barrera said. “We had an extra layer of paper over our clothes. We had goggles, face shields, gloves; we had protection that we never took off and the only time we took it off was to have something to eat or drink, and then it was on 24/7.”
Barrera said every day was different.
“Especially it was hard because the younger people that came in and they had no prior histories and then here they are coming to my floor just to have their last moments,” Barrera said. It was scary because that could be anyone. That could be me because people my age were going there so it was very heartbreaking.”
She said she had at least 10 experiences that really made the hardest days take an emotional toll on her.
“There was this one situation where I knew this patient had no prior history and I had to take his wife in,” Barrera said. “I had to see her and explain to her to prepare herself. I said, ‘I know you haven’t seen your husband in a while but he is going to look different from what you know of him. He is going to have tubes coming from his mouth and his nose and just everywhere so when you walk in, I want you not to be afraid and I’ll be with you.’”
She said when she walked in her personal protection gear, they both broke down. She said she prayed with her and did everything she could to show compassion.
Barrera said though there were hard days, there were victorious days as well.
“With the equally hard days, we did have patients that did go home as well and with those days, those were the brighter days like, ‘Ok, there is hope that we will come out of this.’ We would all gather, the nurses, staff, and doctors and line up in the hallways and clap as patients were being wheeled out because that was a good job we all did and contributed to a patient going home.”
Through the ups and downs, Barrera said one thing was for certain and that was that she missed her family.
“I would speak with them on FaceTime and it really made me feel loved because I missed them,” Barrera said. “When I came home to my hotel, they put cookies, paintings, cards, and all of my favorites in there because I missed Mother’s Day and Easter. It was so sweet because they are so thoughtful and so supportive and have been from the beginning.”
During the surprise, her family expressed just how proud they were of Barrera and that the sacrifices she made paid off in the long run.
Barrera had this message for others after her experience.
“If you ever feel like there is a calling or a need that you are called to go and assist with, please do not hesitate,” Barrera said. “No matter how big the catastrophe may be or how small it may be, if you have it in your heart to take that jump and step, please do.”