Green Country Grown-Up: April Bennett
Bennett, a Tulsa nurse, served on the frontlines in New York City during the COVID-19 pandemic
April Bennett happened into a career in the healthcare field and, as it turns out, choosing to pursue nursing was one of the best decisions she has ever made. It has provided over 19 years of employment in a challenging job she loves, while allowing her to make a positive impact on others’ lives. Most recently, Bennett was presented with the opportunity to serve on the frontlines in New York City, an early hotspot for Covid cases. She just recently returned from an intensive assignment working at the Jacobi Medical Center in Bronx, NY where she spent almost two months. Now she shares her first-hand account about answering the call to travel to New York as well as a little message she has for our Green Country residents.
TK: Tell us about yourself:
Bennett: I am a single mom of three boys. My oldest is 17 and 11-year-old twins. I am the oldest of five girls, and my sisters and I have nine boys between us. One of my sisters is now pregnant with another boy on the way to make an even 10. We are all very close.
TK: What is your professional background in nursing?
Bennett: I have been a nurse for 19 years. I have my bachelor’s degree in Nursing and am certified in Critical Care.
TK: What sparked your interest in the healthcare field?
Bennett: My entrance into nursing is not as poetic as some people’s. It’s not something I always knew that I wanted to do. I honestly fell into it. I went to college in a small town in Texas. I was the typical 18-year-old taking basic classes and had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. Because it was a small-town college, there weren’t a ton of options, and nursing seemed like the natural next step. Turns out…it was the best decision I ever made.
TK: How did you find out about the opportunity to help in a hospital in New York?
Bennett: My good friend added me to a Facebook group for travel nurses, and the very next day I came across a message from a travel agency sending nurses to NYC for a crisis assignment. I didn’t even know what a “crisis assignment” was, but I assumed due to the location it would be on a Covid unit.
TK: What did you initially think about answering the call to help?
Bennett: There was a number to call on the ad. I thought that I would call and just get information about the assignment then have some time to mull it over and assess the reward versus risk. I was wrong. When I called, the lady I spoke to did give me information, but then said I needed to agree to come right then and fly out within two days. I think I was pacing around mumbling for a few seconds before I just blurted out, “ok, I’ll go.” I’m still not sure that I would have agreed to it if I had more than five seconds to decide.
TK: What did your family think about your decision to go?
Bennett: My family was not thrilled that I was going. There was still so much unknown about Covid, and it wasn’t clear even to me if this was a good decision for my family. They all expressed that they were very proud but fearful for my safety. My mom was the typical mom and started crying immediately. The thing that surprised me the most was the reaction of my sons. I thought that they would consider it a vacation from their sometimes too-strict mom. They seemed anxious, and it was another wake-up call that kids pay more attention to current events than we realize. They were worried that their mom was headed to the epicenter of this scary thing they were hearing about.
They stayed with my sister, Sarah, who did an excellent job of trying to keep things light and fun all while helping them finish their school year online. Then another sister, Tara, took over watching the boys for the remainder of my stay. If the old adage “it takes a village” is true, then luckily my village comes with four amazingly selfless sisters.
TK: Once you were there, was it what you expected?
Bennett: When I first got there, it felt very overwhelming. We stayed at a hotel and were bused to whatever hospital they assigned us to. I was alone, and the weight of what I had signed up for didn’t hit me until I arrived at the hotel. I got assigned the day after I arrived and went to the hospital. I’m not sure what I expected, but the people and hospitals of NYC were devastated. There were three morgue trucks like they showed on the news right where we entered the hospital, and there would be more by the time we left. The entire hospital was Covid patients.
There were makeshift ICUs. Doctors and nurses had to be creative and resourceful. Everyone did such a good job of trying to be efficient in an attempt at giving as good care to patients as they would on a normal day. Military arrived the same time we did and had their own ICU. I worked with them for one week and was the only civilian on the unit during that time. Doctors from all specialties were called to help the intensivists at the hospital. It was organized chaos. To answer the question: Was it what I expected? I tried to imagine the worst to prepare myself, and I came to the conclusion before I got there that as long as I had adequate PPE and everyone was working together, then that would be enough for me. And it was.
TK: What was the most difficult part?
Bennett: I know the right answer here would be that the hardest part was being away from my family, but I was oddly detached while I was there. I don’t think I had the energy to think about anything other than work, eat and sleep. It was either exhaustion or a coping mechanism, but I think it worked to my benefit.
For me, the hardest part about being there was the schedule. We would leave the hotel at 5:30 a.m. and return around 8:30 p.m., and I worked every single day. Every night I would do my best to rush to my room, shower, eat and try to get to bed as early as possible. I would get cranky if anything interrupted my very short routine.
TK: What will you always remember about your time in NY?
Bennett: What I will always remember about being in NYC was the feeling of being a part of something special. As scary and devastating as it was, we all knew that the local nurses had been through it longer and harder. I met people that became like family on day two. The most poignant thing, though, was the emptiness of the city. Our hotel was on Times Square, and it was completely empty when normally people would be shoulder to shoulder. It was haunting but also felt like such an honor to be one of the few walking the streets. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling.
TK: Would you answer the call to go again?
Bennett: I would certainly go again if the timing worked out. I wouldn’t have been able to go if the stars weren’t perfectly aligned. Because I was moving, I had already resigned from St. John and wasn’t leaving any employer in a bind. I thoroughly – and surprisingly – really enjoyed my time in NYC.
TK: With your background in the healthcare field, what suggestions or advice can you offer for the people in Tulsa?
Bennett: Seeing what I saw, I would love to share some things with my Tulsa people. It is truly a devastating disease. It is not just another “flu.” It wreaks havoc on all body systems and oftentimes leaves permanent damage to the people that survive. I took care of people whose entire families were wiped out. I took care of people in their 30s that didn’t survive.
It’s easy to see NYC as this faraway place, and we can convince ourselves that it could never happen here or to us. The people of NYC could not pretend that this disease wasn’t real or serious because EVERYONE knew someone that was affected; therefore, they took stay at-home orders and social distancing very seriously. As I mentioned, the streets of Manhattan were completely empty. I hope that Tulsa does not find itself in that position. My quarantine is over, but I still try to stay at home unless absolutely necessary. When I do go out, I often find myself the only person wearing a mask. It saddens me and makes me fearful that Tulsa has not seen the worst of this.