PEI

'I just wanted to help': P.E.I.-born nurse helping to fight COVID-19 in New York

A P.E.I. born nurse is among the frontline medical staff battling the COVID-19 pandemic in New York.

'You can tell people are terrified. There is an odd feeling just in the whole city'

'When I get to the floor it's just overhead announcers, rapid response, code blue over and over and over and over,' says Josh McInnis, who is working as a nurse in Long Island, New York. (Josh McInnis)

A P.E.I.-born nurse is among the frontline medical staff battling the COVID-19 pandemic in New York.

Josh McInnis graduated from UPEI's nursing program in 2016 and for the last two years he has been part of a travel nursing program. He picks up 13-week contracts where there is demand for nurses.

He spent most of his time in Florida, but two weeks ago he got a call from his recruiter asking if he would go to Long Island, N.Y., and work in a hospital there.

"I just wanted to help," he said. "I looked at the staff around me and a lot of them were advanced age. A lot of them maybe, you know, had some kind of health problem."

I felt kind of selfish not to ... offer my helping hands.— Josh McInnis

He said some of the people he works with in the travel program have kids and families and he felt he should step up.

"I have no prior health history. I mean there is still a danger but I felt kind of selfish not to, you know, offer my helping hands."

Nearly 300,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in New York state and there have been more than 15,000 deaths.

McInnis says he never thought he would be working in the middle of a pandemic only four years after graduation. (Josh McInnis)

McInnis grew up on Waterside Road right beside the Pownal rink. Now looking out of his window he gets a different view.

"I'm living downtown New York City, three blocks from the Brooklyn Bridge. I can see it like pretty much from my window," he said.

However, this isn't the same New York that he has visited in the past.

"I definitely, you know, would be very intimidated to drive downtown New York City, but the cities are empty right now," he said. "You can tell people are terrified. There is an odd feeling just in the whole city."

McInnis works night shifts, usually starting around 6:30 p.m.

"When I get to the floor it's just overhead announcers, rapid response, code blue over and over and over and over," he said.

"It's sad the way people are going too."

He said people can't even die with their family by their bedside because visitors aren't allowed to come into the hospital.

"I've had the wind knocked out of me before and it's not a fun feeling. And to die by slowly losing your capacity to take in oxygen is a pretty terrible way to go."

You can tell everybody is burnt out and everybody is just done with this, but it doesn't feel like there is going to be any ease up any time soon.— Josh McInnis

McInnis said he never thought he would be working in the middle of a pandemic only four years after graduation.

"Not like this, never imagined something like this," he said. "I didn't think it would be this bad whenever I got to New York."

McInnis said it is tough to be working in New York, but he feels worse for those who are regular staff at the hospital and had to deal with the pandemic before additional staff was brought in.

"Basically the whole hospital was a makeshift ICU, so you know you had nurses not trained with ventilators using ventilators," he said.

He said staff at the hospital are seeing some of their co-workers get the virus, have to be put on ventilators and die.

He said it is hard on everyone and there is a grim feeling at the hospital.

"You can tell everybody is burnt out and everybody is just done with this, but it doesn't feel like there is going to be any ease up any time soon."

McInnis said his family is back on the Island and his parents are worried about him working in the largest area in the U.S. affected by COVID-19.

His mother, Linda McInnis, said while she is worried about her son, she isn't surprised he decided to go and work in New York.

"He's always been a leader and he always leads everybody and with no thoughts of himself — just always worried about someone else and how he can help," she said.

Linda said she is scared for her son, but she is proud of him at the same time.

"He's not thinking about himself only about others."

She said Josh told her he doesn't plan to come home after his time in New York. If someone else needs him that's where he plans to head.

'Check on your neighbours'

Josh said the numbers on P.E.I. look good compared to other areas of the world.

Dr. Heather Morrison, P.E.I.'s chief public health officer, said there are no new positive cases on P.E.I. Wednesday. There was one confirmed case announced on Tuesday, bringing P.E.I.'s total to 27. All cases so far have been travel related.

Josh has some advice for those on the Island.

"Check on your neighbours," he said. "The whole world is grieving right now, whether it is financially, whether it's somebody who died close to you."

He said he believes Islanders are good at helping others in need and they need to keep that up.

"I think the Maritimes especially can stay strong," he said.

'Sirens going all night'

In the U.S. there have been protests around COVID-19, calling for a lift on self-isolation recommendations. Josh said that is tough to see as a front-line worker.

"If anybody seen what has gone through my eyes ... it is no hoax," he said. 

"You hear ambulance sirens going all night and I've seen somebody be carried out of my building and they get to the ambulance and the family is told 'You know, you can't come in … it's too dangerous.' It's real."

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.
  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.

About the Author

Tony Davis grew up on P.E.I. and studied journalism at Holland College. He can be contacted at anthony.davis@cbc.ca

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