What It’s Like to Intubate Coronavirus Patients Almost Every Day

In our What It’s Like series, we speak with people from a wide range of backgrounds about how their lives have changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For this installment, we spoke with Cherene Saradar, a travel certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) currently working in Westchester, New York. As a travel CRNA, Saradar works short-term contracts in different states and travels the world in between.

Saradar decided to go work in New York once the scope of the state’s new coronavirus outbreak became clear. (New York state has more cases of COVID-19 than any country except the United States.) Part of Saradar’s responsibility is to intubate critical patients who are placed on ventilators to help them breathe better. This kind of specialty skill is currently in high demand. Many of Saradar’s peers are also choosing to take their skills to hard-hit areas, such as New York.

Saradar has four degrees in medical and biological sciences, has studied epidemiology and public health, and has worked in hospitals practicing infection control. Here, she explains how COVID-19 has changed her job, how she’s trying to cope, and her struggle to accept the sacrifice health care workers are making without proper protection or hazard pay. (The below exchange details Saradar’s personal experience and perspective. She’s not speaking on behalf of her workplaces. Her answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)

SELF: What motivated you to become a nurse?

C.S.: My father is a doctor, and my mother and aunts are nurses. I grew up in the medical world and was always interested in the human body. I majored in biology/pre-med in undergrad, then I realized nursing was a better fit for me because I thought I’d have more flexibility with location and specializations.

I’ve worn many hats in my nursing career. I worked in a physician’s office before becoming a trauma intensive care unit nurse in Miami, and now I’ve worked as a nurse anesthetist for a decade. I provide anesthesia for a variety of surgeries in the operating room. In 2017, I became a travel CRNA.

How did you feel when you realized you’d be working directly with COVID-19 patients?

I’d just started a new contract at a hospital in Palm Beach County, Florida. At first, it seemed like the virus wouldn’t come to us. I now realize we were in denial. By early March, we started to become anxious as cases hit our county.

Fear was in the air. We knew eventually we’d be exposed and wouldn’t have enough PPE. By late March, all elective surgeries were canceled and there wasn’t much work for anesthesia personnel.

Can you walk us through your decision to leave Florida to practice in New York, which has the most COVID-19 cases in the country?

Due to the growing strain on intensive care units and emergency rooms in hospitals in hard-hit places such as New York, anesthetists are going to desperate areas. All nurse anesthetists have at least a year of ICU or ER experience, so we understand critical care. New York also waived typical state nursing licensure requirements.

I felt a duty to sign up as somebody young, healthy, available, and with the skills needed. I also know that regular operating room work isn’t going to come for many months. If I wanted to make an income, I had to step out of my comfort zone and travel to a hot zone. It was a difficult decision. I could have stayed at my parents’ house and laid low, but I’d feel useless. I’m fearful I could get sick. I hope every day that I made the right decision.

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