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First Week on Front Lines of COVID-19 Marked by Sadness and Unexpected Joy for Nurse from Diocese of Atlanta

Apr 29, 2020

Editor’s Note: Rebecca Land Segrest is Campus Missioner for the Northwest Georgia Canterbury Club which includes Berry College, Shorter College, and Georgia Highlands. A Registered Nurse working in critical care since 2004, Rebecca left Georgia on Easter Sunday for eight weeks in New York City where she will provide relief in overcrowded hospitals.

Rebecca Land Segrest, a Registered Nurse and Diocese of Atlanta Campus Missioner for Northwest Georgia, left Easter Sunday for New York City where she is providing relief for nurses working at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Stories of Hope and Helping caught up with Segrest after her first week for an update on her work in a New York hospital.

This is her story:

“All available space has been turned into an ICU to care for the many, oh so many, patients who require ventilator support,” Segrest said. “Unfortunately, once a patient is to that point, the chance for survival is significantly reduced.”

Patients suffering from and dying without the presence of family and friends has been one of the most heartbreaking parts of the already stressful job.

“Families are not usually allowed to visit, though Wednesday night we did have a visitor on the floor.”

This is how she described the unusual encounter enabled by a recent policy change on when patients can have visitors.

“A lady, about my age, caught me by surprise as I went in the room, not expecting anyone to be at the bedside. The only reason she could visit was because they didn’t know if her husband would survive the night,” she said. “She asked questions about her spouse’s care and COVID and where I was from, but mostly she wanted to tell me about his story, her story. A man my age, father of 6, husband of 20+ years.”

He was just months out of treatment for cancer and contracted COVID just weeks after finding his PET scan showed he was clear of cancer.

“I listened to her talk about their family while I washed his face, cleaned his mouth, and suctioned his ET Tube. She had no idea if her husband knew she was there and only a small bit of hope that he would ever come home,” she said. “We talked about miracles and faith. That small moment tells me I am here for the right reasons.”

But there have also been moments of unexpected joy. One came during a walk to get groceries.

“On my way home from the store the daily 7 p.m. cheers and bells and horns caught me off guard. It is truly a celebration. Being reminded the city is thinking about what is happening and about the essential workers is so powerful. I cried,” she said. “Everyone I’ve encountered here in New York, from hospital janitors to physicians to security guards, and outside the hospital like subway workers, community responders and store clerks, has been appreciative and kind.”

Segrest has been able to help The Rev. Melissa L. Kean, associate rector of St. Peter’s Rome with online Morning Prayer. The day after her encounter with the visitor on the COVID-19 ward praying for those separated from their families hit Segrest hard.

“During the prayers I cried. This is hard. Being away from friends and family and my everyday life is hard. It is hard for all of us; we are all separated from our loved ones and our everyday lives. I am grateful to be here.”

But unexpected pleasures continue. One was seeing the bronze sculpture of Christ as a homeless man as she walked by the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

“I walked past it on my way to pick up dinner one night,” Segrest said. “This sculpture is one of my favorites. It reminds me that isolation is everyday life for some of my neighbors.”
Segrest asked us to pass along a message to her friends in the Diocese of Atlanta.

“I hope all ya’ll back in the DioATL are well. I am praying for Georgia, especially in the next few weeks.”

And we will be praying for this extraordinary young woman and keep you updated on her journey.

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