‘We saw very little recovery’: Tri-Cities respiratory therapists return home after working on the front lines in New York City

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Two Tri-Cities respiratory therapists are back home following almost 2-months at a New York City hospital. The two women, Patsy Nelson and Jessica Burleson left the Tri-Cities on April 13th to help battle the virus on the frontlines, treat patients, and run ventilators.

The two said the decision to leave the Tri-Cities and work in a New York City hospital came easy, but they had no idea what they were walking in to. Both Burleson and Nelson said they underestimated the power and strength of COVID-19 until they saw the impacts of the virus firsthand.

While our region has not seen a significant number of virus-related deaths, that’s not the case for more populated cities like New York, which has seen over 17,000 deaths since the pandemic began.

“We saw very little recovery, very little. I think we experienced maybe two people that recovered and came off ventilators,” said Burleson.

The two worked long hours on the graveyard shift and said it was heartbreaking to watch. Not only were these people suffering, but for the most part, they were going through it alone.

“They’re slipping away and there’s nothing you can do and the family is not there, but you’re there and it’s just really humbling,” said Burleson.

Burleson said most of the walls were covered with photos and drawings from loved ones wishing family and friends a speedy recovery. At night when things calmed down a little more, nurses would help patients connect with families via phone calls or FaceTime because it’s all they physically could do. Nelson said being a part of something like that can take a toll on a person.

“I can’t imagine if it was one of my kids, or my husband, or something like that and I had to Facetime them in their final hours. That was, I think the hardest part,” said Nelson.

Despite the hardships, they feel as though they’ve become a part of history by helping where they could during this crisis. They lived out of a hotel room for two months and woke up every day ready to help save lives.

Burleson and Nelson returned to the Tri-Cities in early June to share what they learned. Both told News Channel 11 they feel like the virus isn’t being taken as seriously as it should be and even though you may not see the symptoms, it doesn’t mean Coronavirus isn’t spreading. In fact, Nelson said she believes there could be way more cases in the Tri-Cities than people realize.

While they agree there comes a time when the economy needs to reopen, they also feel that it’s too soon to throw safety guidelines out the window. Nelson, strongly suggests the use of PPE to protect not just you, but everyone who comes into contact with you.

“It’s not necessarily just ours. If you’re protecting yourself and I’m protecting myself, then we’re less likely to contract that or get it from each other,” said Nelson.

When they left New York, the virus was on the downslope, but they fear if guidelines aren’t followed, that won’t be the case for long. While in New York, they made lifelong friends with other respiratory therapists and nurses and learned firsthand just how dangerous the virus is.

Once again, they urge everyone to wash their hands, wear masks in public, social distance, and if you don’t need to go somewhere, stay inside.

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