An “Angel” fights for the sickest patients – and their families
Not only has Intensive Care Unit nurse Angela Escobar been at the very front lines in the fight against COVID, her compassion for her patients – and one patient in particular – has led her further, to a significant change in hospital policy.
It was the early days of COVID – March 2020 – and Angela had just returned from a three week absence to find the place she worked - Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital – transformed by COVID.
“It was like a war situation,” Angela, 43, recalls. “We were still trying to figure out how to wear PPE (personal protective equipment), we didn’t know that much about the virus yet and all the staff were scared about getting sick. We felt like we were fighting for both our patients’ lives and our own.
“I was so, so scared…I have two little ones and no family. What would happen to them if something happened to me?”
Then came the personal trauma of caring for terminal patients.
“So many died, despite everything we did to help them,” Angela recalls. “It was incredibly stressful.”
Compounding the stress was the loneliness of COVID. Early on in the outbreak, hospitals restricted visitors in order to slow the spread of the virus. The end result was that nurses like Angela became the only people critically-ill patients saw on a daily basis, other than the once-a-day call with their families.
“It’s such a sad virus,” said Angela. “You are the only person they see. You build a relationship with them. They depend on you—they express their feelings and their fears. You are in the room when they cry with their family members during a remote call. And then you see them start to decline. They die by themselves and you are the only one with them.”
“This virus asks a lot from the nurses. We are human beings just like everyone else.”
Things came to a head for Angela when a mother lay dying in the hospital, her 18 year old daughter unable to visit her during her last moments. For Angela, who had nursed this patient from the start, the parallels with her own story were poignant.
Angela, an only child, had lost her beloved mother ten years earlier. Now she was a mother herself of two small children.
“It made me think of me and my mom,” Angela recalls. “I would want to be with her to the very end, and so do the families here in South LA.”
She understood the pain of the patient’s young daughter – and took that pain and her voice to the head of the ICU nursing unit, Anahiz Correa. Correa heard Angela and advocated for a change in hospital policy to allow family members to visit their loved ones during end of life situations.
“The change was immensely important for patients and their families,” said Correa. “But it was also important for the nurses who care for them because they saw that their patients would not be alone at the end.”
Because of her empathy, Angela has been nominated by her manager to participate in a Univision and Hyundai competition to give away a new car to an employee at a local hospital.
Whether she wins or loses, Angela says that the whole experience of COVID has made her a better nurse.
“It’s such an intense experience,” she said. “You become more compassionate and more aware that it could be you lying in that hospital bed.”
The thought of leaving her own daughters motherless haunts her, but Angela loves nursing and is determined to do her job.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to me if I have to go into the ICU,” said Angela. “I ask God and my mom to protect me. But I feel lucky that I work in a place that listens to its staff, provides us with what we need to do our jobs safely, and makes changes for the right reasons. I know that we are making a huge difference for our patients and their families.”