Eight weeks ago, Plano nurse Rachel Carmichael hopped on a plane to New York City to help the region's demand for healthcare workers.
Heading into her journey, Carmichael thought of the virus as "the worst version of the flu," but quickly changed her mind.
The nurse and student spent her days at the bedside of hundreds of patients infected with the virus. She leaned on her religious roots and love for writing to remain positive.
Carmichael took a moment to tell the Plano Star Courier about her time in New York.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small town in central Florida.
Tell me about the moment you knew you wanted to be a nurse.
Honestly, it’s nothing earthshaking or romantic as some stories go. I knew God had given me a heart to help people and that I was called to be a missionary. I also knew I had a strong desire to go into fashion design. I was dead set on it. But, God had other plans. I remember going to work at a summer camp as a camp counselor after declaring nursing was my major and registering for classes earlier in the summer.
What brought you to work in Plano?
After finishing a ministry leadership residency program through Watermark Community Church in Dallas, I had a strong desire to stay in the DFW area. Having worked in a cardiovascular intensive care unit before, I knew I wanted to work in a fast-paced intensive care unit again. I was highly interested in working for one of the hospitals in Plano and ended up getting a job in Plano.
Tell me about your feelings as you were going into the New York medical scene.
It was such a whirlwind from the moment I started considering New York to the moment I stepped on that plane bound for LaGuardia. I felt excited, nervous, and resolved. I knew God had called me to go to New York, and I was ready. Hearing of all the hardships New Yorkers were facing and specifically the medical community there was heartbreaking. In healthcare we are a team, when one of your teammates in struggling, you help them, no questions asked. It felt like everything in me was pulling me there because I wanted to run into the fire, chaos and help.
Is there a story from your time in New York that particularly sticks out to you?
Early on, I remember caring for a patient who was just not getting better despite all the healthcare team’s best efforts. I stood at my patient’s bedside, praying for him, as I watched him breath rhythmically with the ventilator. He was unstable, and the realization sunk in that the patient was probably not going to make it. In that moment, my treatment plan changed. Working on a surgical ICU, I’m used to seeing most people get better. Death is not something I encounter daily but rather monthly. With COVID-19, death of patients was a daily occurrence. I started thinking of the ways I could remind my patient he’s not going through this alone, that someone is there and cares. He was sedated and would never know I was there, but I squeezed his hand, talked to him, prayed for him. My patient died a few days later, and it shook me. I remember sitting in my hotel room and feeling like the virus was closing in around me. Then, the thought struck me: “Rach, are you going to let the fear of what could happen keep you from living the life you have been given or are you going to be thankful for every breath and moment you do have and just go for a run?” I opted for the run.
What were some of the things you did to take your mind off the stress of work?
Without a doubt, the thing that helped the most was time spent in my Bible and prayer. I would journal my thoughts form the day and pray over my patients and the things I had seen or encountered that day and release it. I also went for a lot of runs, walked around and safely explored the parts of New York that were open. Something else that helped get my mind off of the stress of work was school. I started nurse practitioner school through Baylor University in 2018 and have been working towards earning my family nurse practitioner doctorate. Ironically, this past semester, I was in an epidemiology course where we were studying COVID-19 on a local and global scale.
Did your experience working in Plano help you during your time in New York?
Working in Plano definitely helped equip me for my time in New York. Through taking care of patients in critical condition at my job in Plano, I was familiar and comfortable with taking care of very sick patients. There were countless opportunities I faced to be a self-leader and stay calm in the midst of chaos, take charge when it was needed, stay silent when needed, and be very flexible. I work with an amazing healthcare team at my job in Plano.
What did you take with you from your work in New York?
I took a lot of memories; some good, some hard, some fun, some sad back with me to Texas. Through working in New York, the Lord revealed the areas where I had grown complacent and was coasting in some aspects of my job back in Plano. I was reminded why I am a nurse, why I love it, and why God called me to nursing specifically. I saw the best and worst parts of nursing in practice and was thankful and humbled to be a part of such an amazing profession.
You wrote in a blog post that you found “beauty” in the “broken.” Can you elaborate on that?
It is easy to focus on the hard, to complain, and to focus on the negative. It was a challenge, a chore, a hard exercise to pray the Lord would help me to see the one good thing as I started my shifts. Slowly but surely, God showed me He had not given up on New York, America or this world. I saw beauty through the brokenness of seeing my healthcare team band together toward one common goal of fighting this virus. I saw beauty through the truth that even though this virus does not make sense, and not everyone will be saved each patient had a healthcare army locking arms with them as they fought for their lives.
What are you most looking forward to right now?
Right now, I’m most looking forward to the time I’ll get to spend in the mountains with my family in a few weeks.
I believe the things I’ve learned will only enrich my time in school as I continue to research and study the virus, best practice guidelines, and brainstorm about ways to be prepared for health disasters I may face in future practice as a nurse practitioner