Cherie (left) poses with her colleague in ICU. source: Twitter

the inequalities of Covid-19 as told by an American ICU nurse

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My sister had told me for years ‘you need to get on Twitter’. Of course I had one, but I didn’t have the most active account either. In the summer of 2019, I heeded my sister’s advice and decided to take to the Twitterverse. My tweets were mostly light, but often times deep and meaningful. I thought my following of 27 people would like to hear about my past toxic relationships or my thoughts on the series finale of Game of Thrones; I slowly grew a following of around 500 followers. But it wasn’t until the night of June 23, 2020, that my words would finally travel the world and resonate across the globe.

I had just finished my first night back on the COVID- ICU. My patient was recently discharged with a mild case of the novel virus and readmitted with the more atypical presentation: he had suffered an enormous heart attack. He was a Hispanic male. We were seeing more and more of them in those days. It was almost like caring for the same patient over and over again: middle-aged, Hispanic, male, slightly overweight. I started to see a pattern. The 27 bed ICU had 16 out of 21 patients that were of Latin descent. The healthcare disparity was alarming. That night was horrific. The patient’s body was in shock; secondary to acute heart failure caused by the massive heart attack. His pump was failing. I was failing.

I have been an acute care nurse for eight years. My experience includes both ER and ICU in some of the most challenging hospitals in the Southern, United States, and I was beginning to see a pattern: minorities had poorer health outcomes.

I never realized that one of my missions in life was to bring healthcare equality to the world. My social activism included work with the homeless in my hometown of Atlanta, GA. and abroad in Guadalajara, Mexico. I am a holistic nurse. What that means is I look at the patient as a complete person and advocate for non-medical alternatives: lifestyle changes, nutrition, smoking cessation, good mental health, spiritual wellbeing etc.

As my patient looked at me that night— able to follow commands and mouth his wants, I knew this moment was important. It was as if the world stood still. I was scrambling. His blood pressure would plummet anytime his medication delivery pump beeped. I needed a back-up pump ready and primed. I wanted to send him home to his family. That was the only thing in the world that mattered to me.

When I got off that morning, I was in tears. It was so hard to watch the effects of COVID-19 on the working class. I took to Twitter like I had for the past year and tweeted what would become a viral tweet. I had no idea the impact I would make that night. In one tweet, I reached 60.4 million people worldwide. My voice had been muffled for so long, but that day it reverberated to ears it may have never reached.

As a black woman, raised in a lower middle-class family, I have often shrunk myself to fit in, but I now realize that I have to be loud on issues of racial and economic inequities impacting the healthcare industry. My genetic and physical makeup does not determine my worth. My words matter. That tweet gave me the confidence and the motivation I needed to continue my life’s work: providing quality care to disenfranchised patients. I will forever continue that fight.