By Stephanie J. Montoya, Staff Writer/Reporter

When Michelle Kellar became a nurse, she never expected her journey to lead her to working in the emergency room in the epicenter of a global pandemic. But for nurses like Kellar, the profession is a true calling.

“Being a nurse is something I’ve always wanted to do, it’s in my blood. I feel very honored to be able to help people, to make someone smile, hold their hand, or listen to their story even for five minutes,” she said.

After graduating from Northern’s ADN program in 2008, Kellar gained some floating experience and became interested in working in the ER. She worked at Christus St. Vincent’s Hospital in Santa Fe and in the ER at Presbyterian Española hospital before becoming a travel nurse, a longtime career goal of hers. Kellar was originally scheduled to do a contract in California when she received a call about an opportunity in New York City. Her and a friend packed their bags and signed up to work in the COVID-19 ER in a community hospital in Brooklyn.

Northern ADN graduate Michelle Kellar
Kellar and a fellow nurse in full PPE.

“We came to give these nurses a break and fill a need,” Kellar said. “They were basically drowning here.”

Kellar said that the facility she is working at is smaller and community-based, and did not get the protective equipment they needed in time. Several of the hospital’s staff became ill or even died because of the virus, while others lost family members, she said. Some nurses were healthy without underlying health issues but got sick enough to be out for a month.

Describing her experience in the COVID ER, Kellar said that being vigilant about PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is a must, including head-to-toe Tyvek shoes, gowns, gloves, face covers, masks, and shoe covers.

Kellar said that she was surprised by the amount of very sick patients entering the ER, including those with multi-system organ failure or needing dialysis, which was uncommon in emergency rooms before COVID-19. Because hospital beds are often full, patients are also having to wait up to several days in the ER for a bed to become available.

Nurses line up outside a Brooklyn community hospital.

“It’s really hard for patients since they can’t have family members or visitors. It’s a lot of talking to patients spending time with them since they can’t have visitors. And we are still seeing people, unfortunately, passing away,” she said.

However, there is a bright side. Kellar said that her favorite experience is when patients are discharged. The hospital plays a different song every day when a patient recovers and gets released, such “Happy” by Pharrell.

Kellar said that although there is hope, she wants people to take precautions. “I want people to know that this is something to take seriously. I would like if everyone was vigilant, wore a mask, and washed their hands. It’s definitely been an eye opener,” she said.

She said that her experience in the COVID-19 ER has expanded her medical experience and has added to her skill set. “Every nurse is special, they all have an impact on you,” she said. “It’s a wonderful profession.”

Kellar has been working in NYC since April 20 and plans to continue for another several weeks. She is currently living in Swan Valley Idaho with her husband, and has two daughters still living in New Mexico.

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