“It’s a nightmare. It’s a total nightmare.”
Managing more than 10 patients at a time without a nursing assistant or tech, Oklahoma nurse Kym Langford is changing beds, feeding patients and taking vital signs for 14 hours, seven days a week. She wears a mask meant for single use five days in a row.
Many of her patients died.
With nearly 200,000 confirmed cases, New York has become the heart of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. This did not stop Kym from seizing the opportunity to volunteer in the one place most would not dare travel—New York City.
Leaving behind her husband and three children, Langford flew to the city on Sunday, March 29, to embark on a 21-day undertaking.
“I just felt like it was something that I needed to do,” Kym said. “[New York] had a really big shortage of nurses, I had the time and my husband was going to be at home with our kiddos. I didn’t have any reason not to go.”
In addition to working at Integris Baptist Hospital in Oklahoma City, Kym also works as a lab coordinator with Oklahoma Christian University’s nursing department. Today she only treats COVID-19 positive patients.
According to Kym, over half of the current healthcare workers at the Harlem hospital where she is working are volunteer nurses and doctors. While hundreds of nurses initially planned to stay, Langford said many left after experiencing the intense environment.
“I knew it was going to be hard, and to the people who are like, ‘I can’t handle this, I’m going home,’ I get that,” Kym said. “My thing is mind over matter. I’m talking myself down all night long. It’s very high stress.”
The floor Kym currently works on reopened for this crisis and was not ready to handle a pandemic.
“Day by day we are asking for more supplies and more staff because it wasn’t meant to be an open floor,” Kym said. “They kind of threw it together to meet the demand of incoming patients.”
After working as a missionary in Uganda for six years, Kym said she feels like she is on a mission trip now. The lack of medical supplies at Langford’s hospital puts patients at a high risk.
“BiPAPs are a type of machine we can use to force air into a patient,” Kym said. “It is basically the step before using the ventilator, and we’re completely out of those. As some people die, we get to use them on the next person. It is awful.”
While reports suggest the curve is flattening in New York, Kym said her hospital is still in crisis mode.
“One night we had six submissions from the ER, and there were 30 more waiting for beds in the hospital,” Kym said. “People are waiting in the emergency department just to get beds to come up to the rooms. They’ll come in with so much respiratory distress they’ll need to be put on a ventilator immediately.”
As some of her patients have died in their 20s, Kym urges everyone to remain socially distant and stay at home.
“I think staying at home and social distancing is honestly the way that we’re going to flatten the curve and really the way that we’re going to get over this,” Kym said. “Don’t go to parks; have play dates. Really stay home and kind of hunker in. Don’t get out if you don’t have to.”
Ben Langford, who also teaches at Oklahoma Christian, believes his wife was made to serve in this current situation.
“She realizes this is not everyone’s gifting and calling, that not every nurse should go or should feel compelled to go, but I just think she is discerning and aware enough to think, ‘This is something I can do,’” he said. “I’m hesitant internally, but I know my wife well enough and I recognized that she’s right, this is what she is gifted to do.”
Kym plans to self-quarantine for two weeks when she travels back to Oklahoma.
“They’re looking for nurses in Florida; they’re looking for nurses in New Orleans,” she said. “After I come home in a couple of weeks and regroup, I might go back out.”