Stewart works virus frontlines in New Jersey
Cherokee Nation citizen Rodney Stewart wears his personal protective equipment while working in April at the Pascack Valley Medical Center in New Jersey. Stewart works as a registered nurse at Hillcrest Hospital Pryor (Oklahoma) and was sent to New Jersey as shared staff to help with the COVID-19 pandemic. COURTESY
Cherokee Nation citizen Rodney Stewart, center, in a family photo with his wife Brandi and his three children Ty, Chloe and Heath. COURTESY
WESTWOOD, N.J. – Cherokee Nation citizen Rodney Stewart, a registered nurse, has seen firsthand how COVID-19 affects patients as he worked for nearly a month in one of the hardest hit counties in New Jersey.
Stewart works in the emergency department at Hillcrest Hospital Pryor (Oklahoma) and was sent to New Jersey in April, as shared staff. He worked at the Pascack Valley Medical Center in Bergen County.
“I arrived in Bergen County on April 1, and on that day there were 3,708 cases of COVID. On the last day I worked, April 27, there were 14,965 confirmed cases of COVID. The county that Pascack Valley hospital is in has the highest number of COVID patients in the state,” he said.
While there, he said he saw how and why the mortality rate in elderly patients ran high.
“COVID strikes those patients hard, and unfortunately, death ensues shortly after,” Stewart said. “The respiratory distress that is a result of COVID is a lot like seeing someone having an asthma attack without the air restriction that accompanies asthma, or the CHF (congestive heart failure) exacerbated patient that cannot get a deep breath and has a respiratory rate of 35 to 40 breaths per minute. The panic in their eyes that comes with it is the hardest to watch.”
He said the patients in Bergen County know they have the highest rate of cases in the state and the second-highest death rate per county.
“I have seen more people die as a result of COVID than all of my years in the ER, as well as the short time I was on call for hospice when I worked for home health. One of the hardest moments was when a patient asked if he could call his wife before he died. It was hard to swallow,” he said.
He and hospital staff protected themselves during each shift with personal protective equipment or PPE.
“Staff received a new N95 mask and full face shield prior to every shift and had an unlimited supply of ear-loop surgical masks, as well as gowns,” Stewart said. “Caregivers would don PPE prior to entering the room. When exiting the room we would doff PPE, use hand sanitizer or wash our hands. PPE included a full-face shield, an N95 mask covered with an ear loop mask, gown and two pair of gloves.”
Because of working outside Oklahoma, Stewart was not able to travel back to spend time with family, especially as there were losses of family members during his time in New Jersey. After returning to Oklahoma, he quarantined himself and was tested for COVID-19 on April 29.
He said he wants people to know the virus can be serious for those who contract it. “I think it is so important for people to know that COVID is real. Just because we have been able to flatten the curve here in Oklahoma doesn’t mean that we have beat this virus.”
Stewart said that a lot of people are asymptomatic and spread the virus without knowing they have it. And with businesses reopening, there is the potential for a “second wave” of outbreaks.
“The best protection from contracting the virus is to ensure proper hand hygiene, social distance, and isolate as much as possible,” he said. “When businesses reopen, there will be a rise in the number of COVID cases, call it a second wave, here locally. This increase in cases will be due to people being out and becoming relaxed in their day-to-day activities. The public should still only do what is necessary. They should also continue to distance as much as possible.”