Cabrina Bunn, who works as an emergency room nurse in Sparks, woke up in the middle of the night this week to write passwords on a notepad.
They’re for her bank accounts, her retirement fund, her online logins. She’s leaving them for her husband. Just in case.
Bunn is making sure that, should something happen to her over the next month and a half, her husband and two daughters will be OK.
Bunn has already been working with patients who are showing symptoms or have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus at Northern Nevada Medical Center. On Sunday, however, Bunn will join thousands of nurses from around the nation flocking to the American epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic: New York City.
The city has experienced nearly 6,000 virus-related deaths and has called for traveling nurses, volunteers and additional supplies. City officials say New York is in dire need.
Once Bunn received the blessing of her boss at Northern Nevada Medical Center to leave temporarily, she leaped at the opportunity. While it wasn’t an easy decision for the family, she and her husband, also a first responder, have always made it a point to “preserve life, to help and to protect.”
“It’s been weighing on my mind. They are exhausted (in New York) and depleted and they are at capacity when it comes to providing patient care,” said Bunn. “I feel like I need to be doing more, I feel like I need to have more of an impact.”
Preparing for New York
Bunn’s never been to New York City, but her packing list doesn’t look like that of most first-time visitors.
Scrubs. Sanitizer. Goggles. Left over from a home remodeling project, a few packs of N95 masks will be in her bag, along with a respirator she had to find on the “dark web, the black market.”
She’s also bringing her cable box so she can watch her favorite streaming shows in her Marriott hotel room.
“It was my responsibility to find housing. All the hotels are shut down right now, so the ones that are open, they have floors that are just for medical providers,” she said, noting that she has to pay room taxes but a stipend covers most of the other essentials.
Cleaning services at the hotel are suspended, so she’ll be provided with supplies to do her own housekeeping. If she needs spare linens, there’s a number to call and a bag will be left at her door.
The emails she’s received in the past week from her temporary employer, a traveling nurse agency, are grim. She’ll be working at several metro hospitals.
The agency has not sugarcoated what is ahead.
“The facilities are understaffed, there is an overwhelming amount of sick people, and there are a lot of people that are dying each day,” read an email that Bunn received this week. “This job requires your flexibility and you must be a problem solver at all times. Even though you know this is tough, this will be initially shocking for most and be really hard physically and emotionally. Prepare for that.”
‘Are you ready?’
While Bunn believes she’s as prepared as she can be for the circumstances, she wasn’t necessarily prepared for the questions of one of her daughters.
Her 14-year-old daughter is confident that everything will be OK, but her 12-year-old is skeptical.
“She just welled up with tears. ‘You’re going somewhere dangerous and putting yourself in danger. Why would you do that?’” Bunn recalled her daughter asking. “She said, ‘Are you ready? You’re about to fight something you cannot see.’”
In some ways, Bunn feels that her family will actually be safer while she’s in New York. In recent weeks when she comes home, she takes her scrubs off and washes them, but doesn’t wear a mask around the house. She wonders if she’s bringing the virus home.
On the other hand, she does have fears about leaving. She hasn’t slept well the past few nights. While the virus is known to target senior citizens and people with underlying health conditions, more than 100 medical providers globally have died from infection as of Friday.
Bunn said she’ll be traveling this weekend “with a very heavy heart and lots of excitement.” She’s excited to be “that nurse,” the one in the eye of the storm, just like the nurses she used to watch growing up on reality shows such as “Trauma: Life in the E.R.”
A nurse for three years, her profession largely defines her, Bunn said. She hopes that others will be inspired during this crisis to pursue what she feels is an incredibly fulfilling career.
“You have the honor of being with people during their saddest, hardest, most terrifying moments,” said Bunn. “That’s when it’s most important to be strong and to be not only human, but to be a nurse.”
Jenny Kane covers arts and culture in Northern Nevada, as well as the dynamic relationship between the state and the growing Burning Man community. She also covers the state’s burgeoning cannabis industry (Check out her podcast, the Potcast, on iTunes.) Support her work in Reno by subscribing to RGJ.com right here.
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