As It Happens

Maryland nurse who joined N.Y.'s COVID-19 front lines says it's worse than she imagined

Bailey Suh, a nurse based in Maryland, arrived for her first shift at a hospital in Queens, N.Y., this week after Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a plea for support from healthcare workers across the United States.

'People are dying and they're dying very quickly,' says Bailey Suh

A patient arrives in an ambulance cared for by medical workers wearing personal protective equipment due to COVID-19 concerns outside NYU Langone Medical Center on April 13, 2020, in New York. (John Minchillo/The Associated Press)


Earlier this week, Bailey Suh answered Andrew Cuomo's plea for help.

The Maryland nurse arrived for her first shift at a hospital in Queens, N.Y., after Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a plea for support from health-care workers across the United States.

Hospitals in the New York City borough are struggling under a COVID-19 outbreak that has sickened more than 36,000 people and caused more than 2,300 deaths.

Late last month, Cuomo said that New York City needed a million health-care workers to cope with the region's worsening pandemic.

As It Happens first spoke with Suh on April 1 about her plan to commute between her home in Maryland and New York City in an effort to help combat the coronavirus outbreak.

Guest host Piya Chattopadhyay caught up with her Thursday to see how she's doing. Here is part of their conversation.

Bailey, how are you holding up so far after your first shifts?

I'm holding up pretty good. I'm really exhausted, but I'm trying my best. 

I think the thing I have going for me is that, since I am critical care prior to this happening, I have a pretty good skill at separating my work life and my personal life. So I'm trying not to let the two cross too much.

When you were last on this program, you said your whole family—your dad, your mum, your husband—[were] all supportive of your decision to go. But your dad, your military dad, said to you at that time that you probably didn't know what you were walking into and it was likely to be a lot more serious than you could imagine. Bailey, you're living the reality of being in a New York City hospital. What is it like?

He was definitely right. I definitely didn't know what I was walking into. It is very chaotic up there. Instead of just having critically-ill, ventilated patients in a critical care unit like normal, these patients are now spread out throughout the hospital. 

They don't have enough equipment, especially medication pumps, so we're having to do it the old-school way of just kind of opening the clamp and guesstimating. So that is a really big shocker for me. 

Another thing is that a lot of people are dying and they're dying very quickly.

And what kind of toll is this all taking on you?

If you do start to think about it too much — and I start to think that this is someone's mom, someone's child, someone's family — then it really does become emotional and it's heartbreaking. 

These people are fine one minute, dying the next minute [with] no family around. And then my heart breaks for the family as well that has so many questions and are calling for updates and want to be there but can't.

Bailey Suh is a critical care nurse from Maryland who went to New York to help overworked health-care staff treat COVID-19 patients. (Submitted by Bailey Suh )

You've been talking to families who have people in the hospital.… What do you say to them?

I try to be honest. I know last week I had a patient who I thought was doing fairly well, although sick ... and so I had told the family that was my thought on what was going on. 

Unfortunately, that patient passed away after I left. So that's kind of — that's hard. It makes me feel guilty because I said these positive things to family and then the outcome was something else.

When we spoke last time, you said ... I want to do this. Do you still stand by that?

Even more so. Now that I'm up there and I see the chaos and the overwhelming amount of patients that are there — and I hear that nurses are getting sick; there aren't enough nurses to go around — I really do feel that I need to be there and that I am helping to make a difference.

Are you getting the protections that you need to do your job? We have heard, of course, about the shortages of equipment and [personal protective equipment]. What has your experience been?

I do feel that I've been protected. We were given goggles. We have a face shield. We have gowns to wear. And then we are given the N95 mask as well as surgical masks.

In a normal day-to-day life, when there's not a pandemic, you would ultimately throw away these masks and get a new one every time.

We're being asked to reuse it for five shifts or until it's soiled, which isn't optimal. But again, with the whole world needing the same supplies, you kind of have to make do with what you can.

Health-care workers stand outside NYU Langone Medical Center on 1st Avenue in Manhattan as NYPD Mounted Police and other units came to cheer and thank health-care workers at 7 p.m. in New York City. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

And so now you've completed four shifts — and I should remind our listeners that this is what you're doing in your "spare time." That you have not only a husband back in Maryland, but a full-time job. So how long do you plan on continuing to do this?

My four-week contract will be up in three more weeks and then I am trying to extend it a little bit longer.

You want to keep doing this work.

I do. I feel that it's needed. 

You also said when we spoke a few weeks ago that it wasn't a matter of if you would get the coronavirus, but a matter of when. Do you still feel that way?

I do. The whole hospital, almost everyone, has coronavirus. And everyone is going around the hospital. The germs are everywhere. 

There's just no way it can all be cleaned. So even though you're careful and you wear a mask and everything, there's still such a high risk.

Written by Jason Vermes. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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