‘This thing is real’: Memphis nurse working in NYC hospital shares stunning details about the effects of COVID-19

Mid-South nurse helping COVID-19 patients in NYC

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Tennessee, a Mid-South nurse working in a New York City emergency room shares stunning details about the effects of the illness, what she’s seen and her serious concerns.

She used part of one of her breaks to send a message home.

Wearing a “Stay Home Mane” t-shirt, Memphis Nurse Practitioner Charlene Bonner, spoke with WMC Action News 5 from Bellevue Hospital, where she’s been since March 19, after a search firm reached out.

“I didn’t think twice," she said. “They said, ‘We need you,’ and I said, ‘OK'."

It’s the largest public hospital in New York.

“I actually cover all 21 floors of the hospital," said Bonner.

And this mother of three is in charge of every COVID-19 swab in the entire facility.

“Here, they’re doing two in the nostril and one in the throat," she told WMC.

She intubates, performs CPR and is also on the rapid response team, whenever someone “codes,” meaning their heart stops. So she’s seen it all.

“[Ages] 17, 20, 40, healthy, no comorbidities and they are dying. They are dying," she said. “This thing is real.”

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The 15-year hospice nurse says working with the terminally ill pales in comparison to what she’s seeing with COVID-19.

“I’ve had patients where one minute I was literally in their room talking to them like we are speaking and no shortness of breath, they’re not in any distress, and (snaps finger) code,” said Bonner.

She’s asking her Memphis community to please take the virus seriously. She says you can pass it around even if you don’t have symptoms.

“We’ve had people who tested positive in March and they are still testing positive here in May so you have some people who tested positive for two months and you have some people who tested positive for two weeks," said Bonner.

She’s never had a doubt or fear about her decision to go to New York, but learning that Mid-South cities are slowly re-opening --

“That is the kind of stuff that makes me afraid,” she said.

But she understands the conundrum.

“I think the governors and mayors feel pressure to open cities back up for economic reasons, but it’s not worth it," said Bonner. "No money in the world is worth the lives I’ve seen lost in this short period of time.”

And then she puts her arm in the air and starts dancing. Through the hospital speakers….a light in a dark time.

“We play this when somebody goes home," said Bonner. "That’s the Alicia Keys ‘New York.’ We play that when somebody’s discharged and they go home and they got better. (singing) ‘These lights will inspire you. Now you’re in New York.’”

Bonner will have to quarantine for two weeks when her time in New York City is done. She doesn’t know when that will be but she says she’s staying until they don’t need her anymore.

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