Betty Veloso-Garcia, the Boholana nurse at a Lower Manhattan hospital: It’s so surreal, unimaginable. I never thought this could happen in our lifetime.
Filipino nurse in NYC gets ‘Gratitude Giveaway’
FUNFARE - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - May 13, 2020 - 12:00am

A round of applause for Filipino nurse Betty Veloso-Garcia, my good friend, who is among the medical frontliners at the Presbyterian Hospital in Lower Manhattan, New York City. First featured in Funfare last April 20, Betty was singled out from among several nominees (all health workers) to be awarded a “Gratitude Giveaway,” a pair of gold-diamond earrings from jeweler Smith and Mare (SM) that, according to the story in Bohol Chronicle, so valued frontliners who put their lives and health at risk against COVID-19.

“This giveaway is to celebrate all of you!” according to the SM statement.

Only last February, Betty, who hails from Tagbilaran City, was given the “Shining Star Award” by her hospital colleagues for being a “magnet champion” and a positive and innovative team leader. Also, in October last year, she got a Daisy Award from the Daisy Foundation which honors nurses internationally in memory of the son of the award initiator. Noted the Bohol Chronicle, the award, which is an acronym of Diseases Attacking the Immune System (DAISY), was started in 1999 by the Barnes family as a legacy-memory honor for the care and compassion of the nurses who took care of the Barnes’ son Patrick. The award has been used by more than 4,000 facilities in the world in honoring their dedicated nurses. It was given to Betty after one of her patients wrote to the leadership of the hospital how she went above and beyond her scope of duty.                                                                          

Last March, the Bohol Chronicle reported, Betty and her husband, Bebs Garcia, came home and turned over to Bohol Gov. Arthur Yap and Balilihan Mayor Pureza Veloso-Chatto (Betty’s sister who is the wife of Bohol Rep. Edgar Chatto) one automated defibrillator (AED) each.

As soon as Betty and Bebs returned to their home in New Jersey, one-hour drive to NYC, she immediately reported for a 14-hour-straight duty and attended to four COVID patients on ventilators which was, she said, a very unusual load in her 35 years of working in that hospital where she also took care of victims in the 9/11 incident.

Here’s how Betty described the most devastating experience of her career as a healthcare worker:   

Bebs and I flew back to New York after a three-week vacation in Bohol. The threat of the coronavirus was already alarming. We could feel the impending doom as the traffic and malls in Metro Manila were unusually empty.

In the hospital, we had already COVID patients, just a few positive cases in our Med-Surg floors, maybe two to three in ICU during the weekend of March 14th. The second week, our 20 bed ICU unit was halfway filled with patients on triple precaution airborne, with our ED (Emergency Dept.) also turned into isolation areas.

Since we were not involved at the time being a PACU-Post Anesthesia Care Unit, it was announced that in a few days scheduled surgeries were being canceled, followed by quick review of critical course care, especially ventilator care, documentation through our EMAR-Electronic Medication Administration Record as we rarely deal with drips and whatnot. Our unit was not built with negative pressure so we had a crash course of a negative pressure tent for each bed. It didn’t work actually; there was much uncertainty as to its effectivity so our PACU was totally recreated into cubicles with built-up negative pressure so that air would not leak out to the environment and cause contamination. Our unit was prepared for ICU overflow patients.

On March 22, we were already floated to either ICU (Intensive Care Unit) or ED depending on our past experience. Last time I worked in the ICU was five years ago and I opted for going to ICU. The day of March 24th when I entered to help, the sight of it made me cry and begged for divine intervention. It was so surreal, unimaginable. I never thought that in my lifetime this would happen.        

Our team was overwhelmed by patients rushed into a room for quick sedation, sometimes paralyzed before intubation. Then, we applied the vasopressor drips to maintain vital signs that were going south. With the airborne droplet capacity of this virus, we refrained from manually ventilating with an ambu bag nor giving aerosol mist, a great risk for us health workers to catch the deadly virus. Intubation after intubation for patients who quickly deteriorated to respiratory arrest.                  

That week, the ICU not only filled up the 20 rooms but doubled the occupancy per room to accommodate the admissions. It was crazy.  It was emphasized that we had to put up our PPE before entering to take care of patients. Of the disposables, the N95 we had to use for the whole day, sometimes we kept it for a few days because it became limited after the third week. From being innovative, our IV lines were brought out of the room so we could just easily follow up vials when the drips needed to be refilled outside of the patient. Since it tripled the length of IV tubings bringing it out of the room, our IV tubings supplies also easily ran out. We nurses are very resourceful and innovative so we used other IV tubings as long as the meds were delivered appropriately.  

It became a routine, though we demanded for more staff. We continued our service because too many of our staff got sick, too.

Food was provided from morning ‘till night — three meals plus snacks but we didn’t have time to sit and eat until we handed out our report to the next shift. So grateful for the different anonymous food donors.

The other day, Betty texted me, “May 2 to 12 is Nurses Week, 2020 being Year of the Nurse. Look what’s happening...a pandemic of gigantic proportions, a real challenging, trying time for us nurses.”

(E-mail reactions at rickylophilstar@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos, visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)

BETTY VELOSO-GARCIA
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