As this Magazine goes to press, the country is approaching a grim milestone. March 16 will be the second anniversary of New York City schools being shut down and workers at most non-essential businesses being ordered to work from home. This day marked the beginning of what became known as the ‘lockdown’. Hopes for a return to normal were first dashed by the Delta variant and more recently by Omicron. Healthcare workers on the frontlines have always been the essential workers most at risk of contracting the virus themselves.
Here are a small sample of the lasting health effects of the virus that many 1199SEIU members have had to endure.
1. Natasha Dale, an LPN at the King David NH in Brooklyn, contracted COVID-19 in April 2020. After spiking a temperature of 104.5 at work, she woke up the next day and could barely walk. “My bed was my best friend,” she remembers, “The coughing lasted for 3-4 months. I went to a pulmonologist and learned that my breathing capacity was down to 87% because I have scar tissue on my lungs. I now use an inhaler, and it is getting better, but I still suffer from sleep apnea and need to use a CPAP machine to sleep.”
“So many staff members are leaving their jobs here. It would be nice to get more incentives [from management] for those of us who do stay.”
5. Veronica Ortiz (not pictured), is a Patient Access Service Representative in the Radiology Department, Wyckoff Hospital in Brooklyn.
It was during the first month of the lock-down back in March 2020 that Ortiz fell ill with Covid at her former job, just before being furloughed. “A man coughed right in my face,” she remembers.
“For three weeks, it was really bad. I had shortness of breath, and I felt like I was going to die. I couldn’t walk or eat. My husband had to help me to the bathroom.”
Ortiz slept in the living room to protect her family, but her 14-year-old son contracted the virus, nonetheless. She is in therapy to help with the anxiety and sleeping trouble with which she has struggled ever since.
She adds: “I still feel drained all the time and have ongoing digestive problems.”
2. Laura Dennis, an LPN at White Oaks nursing home in Woodbury, Long Island. As a charge nurse on a Covid unit, she caught the virus in March 2020. Her 12-year old daughter also contracted the disease and spent time in the ICU, where she nearly died. But after these terrible experiences early in the pandemic, Dennis is still having to work double or even triple shifts, because her unit is so short staffed.“ We lean on each other, and do the best we can for the residents always,” says Dennis. “We do have those moments where we feel burned out, and all you want to do on your day off is sleep the whole day.”
3. Toni Whyte, a CNA at Sara Neuman nursing home in Mamaroneck, NY was only able to sleep sitting up once she became infected with the coronavirus in March 2020.
“I lived in a walk-up, and I could barely get up the stairs.
I had shortness of breath and was off work for a month.” Still working on a Covid ward, Whyte caught the virus again this New Year’s Day and was out for a week.
Like many who were infected by the virus in the early days, Whyte still suffers from significant anxiety. “Recently. I thought I was having a heart attack and went to the ER,” she says, “It turns out it was a panic attack. So I did virtual therapy sessions for a month—which helped.” Whyte has also begun suffering from high blood pressure since her infection.
Doctors offered medication, but through diet and exercise she lost 40 pounds, and lowered her blood pressure naturally.
4. Collette Seegers, a Union Delegate and CNA at Sara Neuman, Mamaroneck, Westchester, caught COVID- 19 right at the beginning of the pandemic. She went to the ER with a high fever, but was sent home the same day after they hydrated her. “I lost my taste for food and was afraid to drive. I couldn’t lay down flat to sleep,” she remembers, “I now have more anxiety than ever.”
“My dog saved my life,” she says about her Labrador retriever named Honey, “I had to walk her with a belt around my waist because I couldn’t hold the leash.”