Superheroes aren’t supposed to get sick. Children think their parents are invincible. Patients think their doctors and nurses are never sick. They are superheroes. In this global fight against Covid-19, our superheroes include nurses, doctors, pharmacists, first responders, truck drivers, grocery store employees, and all of the people who put their lives at risk so that the rest of us have a better chance of staying well. But what happens when one of our superheroes tests positive for Covid-19?
“Being a nurse and fighting this disease is hard because you are on the other side. You are not helping those who need you the most; rather now it’s time to help yourself.”
Madhuwattie (Priya) Parsam wasn’t the typical girl who wanted to be a nurse when she grew-up; rather she wanted to be a cardiologist. After earning her bachelor’s degree she put dreams of becoming a cardiologist on hold and married Sham, her boyfriend from elementary school. She continued her education with a master’s degree, but again put her dreams on hold when she and Sham started a family. As a stay at home mother, Priya wanted her boys to value education and to understand her success having earned multiple degrees.
Two years later, Priya graduated with an accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Seton Hall University. Within a week of passing her boards, she started working as a Critical Care float nurse at Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health (RWJBH) Clara Maass Medical Center. “I loved my career and I enjoyed going to work,” Parsam said. “I loved it so much that I worked 10 twelve-hour shifts in a row at times!”
Two years later, she transferred to a sister hospital in the RWJBH system, Jersey City Medical Center as a staff nurse on the Post Intensive Care Unit specialize in the care of pulmonary and cardiac thoracic step-down patients. Parsam shared, “I loved my new job and I found many ways to become involved from being the Chair of the Satisfaction and Engagement Shared Governance Council to becoming the Daisy Nurse Award Coordinator.”
To say Priya is a dedicated and driven person is an understatement. She was already enrolled in a four year doctorate program for her Doctor of Nursing Practice – Family Nurse Practitioner degree (2020) from Saint Mary’s College when she also enrolled in a master’s degree in Nursing Leadership and Management from Westerns Governors University. As she completed the WGU program, Parsam accepted a management position as one of the night Patient Care Coordinators (PCC).
Five months later the world was facing a pandemic. Parsam’s 39-bed unit was now the designated COVID-19 unit caring for patients who needed all the help and support they could receive from the novel virus that had taken the world by storm. In late March, her life would change. In her own words:
“On Wednesday, March 25, 2020, I woke up at five a.m. to get dressed and head to work, but didn’t know that day was going to change my life. Around 3 p.m. I started to have an intermittent cough. Around 7:30 p.m. the coughing got worse and around 10:30 p.m., as I was handing off my report to a charge nurse, I started having shortness of breath, sweating, and severe abdominal pain. My director, Dr. Erin Salmond and one of my Senior Directors of Nursing, Mariekarl Vilceus-Talty convinced me to go to the emergency room at the hospital. As I felt my symptoms worsening, I decided to take their advice.
As I sat in a private room waiting to be seen by the nurse, tech, physician, and radiology techs, I couldn’t stop myself from imaging the worst. The impression from my chest x-ray showed pneumonia and from that moment I knew my test for Covid-19 was going to be positive. I was sent home, told to quarantine for 14 days, and was told I would get my results by phone.
As I walked to my car, I was shocked that this had happened to me. After all I was a nurse and I was invincible – I was a superhero. Two days later around 10 p.m. via a blocked telephone number the voice of the infectious disease doctor confirmed my results for Covid-19 were positive. My voice shivered as I asked, ‘So what do I do now?’
Throughout the days my symptoms worsened, but I was determined not to give up. I wasn’t going to let this beast take me down. After all, I was a superhero not only to my patients and my community, but to my family and I knew my boys needed their mother.
Being a nurse is not an easy job. Nurses are faced with different and challenging situations every day and are always learning. This pandemic will definitely leave a long-lasting impact on nursing. Being a nurse and fighting this disease is hard because you are on the other side. You are not helping those who need you the most; rather now it’s time to help yourself.
Being a nurse and a family nurse practitioner student helped me a lot though my toughest days.
Through coordination with my doctors, Dr. Mazhar ElAmir and Dr. Ross Lyon, I knew when my oxygen dropped to the 70’s I needed to do coughing and deep breathing exercises which would help me. I also knew if I didn’t do those exercises, I would have to be prepared to get to the emergency room immediately. Being a nurse is one of the most rewarding careers in the world and I know it was my destiny.
The coping strategies I used during this time were:
- Prayers- I prayed for myself, my family and friends prayed for me, my co-workers prayed for me, my professors prayed for me, the prayer team at Saint Mary’s prayed for me.
- Journaling- Dr. Sue Anderson (Director of the Doctor of Nursing Program) followed up with me at least two times a day to see how I was doing. She sent me prayers and one of the most important things she taught me was journaling. Writing down your thoughts during this time helps you mentally.
- Connecting- Connecting with friends and family was extremely important. Being able to connect with family and friends through social media and texting (I wasn’t able to talk on the phone because I would become too short of breath and start coughing) was important to help me mentally. The outpour of love I received from everyone including my children’s teachers was heartwarming.
- Music- I used religious music to help me keep calm and to help my anxiety through this difficult time. Music made me realize material things do not matter in life. What matters is your trust in God, family, and friends.
Managing school and continuing my coursework despite COVID-19 was not as stressful because of the support I received from my instructors (Dr. Sue Anderson, Dr. Kimberly Minich, Dr. Annette Peacock-Johnson, Dr. Jennifer Bauer, Dr. Patricia Keresztes, and all the others who prayed for me) and my classmates Laura Grant, Erin Pillette, Kayla Wilkerson, Jessica Rizzo, Carly Thompson, and Madeline Beld (class of 2020). I especially felt the love and support when I received a handwritten card from Judith Fean (Vice President for Mission).
I hope my story can help to inspire others. This was an experience I will never forget. I have learned a lot about life and love. Being a nurse is one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Thank you to all the essential workers for everything you’re doing. Please stay safe and share love around the world.”