Stephen Bruce sees compassion in action in fight against COVID-19
by Maddy Mosher
Stephen Bruce didn’t graduate from Cedarville until May 2. But on April 24, he arrived in New York City to work at the Samaritan’s Purse COVID-19 field hospital.
Bruce saw a team of healthcare professionals work toward a common goal, show compassion and bring light to a dark time.
On April 1, Samaritan’s Purse set up an Emergency Field Hospital in Central Park’s East Meadow to care for COVID-19 patients. They also provided teams to local hospitals to assist overwhelmed health-care workers. They closed it in early May, but during the time it was open, Samaritan’s Purse staff cared for about 300 patients.
Bruce, who studied nursing at Cedarville, was part of the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), at both the field hospital and partner hospital, Mount Sinai Beth Israel.
For the first half of Bruce’s 18 days in the city, he worked the night shift at the field hospital in Central Park, which housed about 50 patients at a time. Though his official shift hours were 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., he said he worked closer to 14 hours than 12.
Bruce got the opportunity to join DART through Cedarville University’s Career Services office. They sent an email alerting the Cedarville student body that Samaritan’s Purse needed staff for their work in New York City. The same week he received the email, Bruce had finished his requirements for his nursing degree. So he signed up to go to New York.
Because he didn’t have an active nursing license, he deployed with DART under his EMT license.
“I told them going in,” he said, “I’m willing to do whatever needs to be done. I know you need people to take out the garbage. I’ll do that. I don’t care.”
Instead of taking out the trash, though, he performed chest X-rays, did bloodwork and helped move patients and keep them clean.
After nearly a week and a half in Central Park, Bruce was transferred to Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital. Soon after this, Samaritan’s Purse closed the field hospital to focus its energy on other health-care areas in the city because the volume of patients was decreasing.
At Beth Israel, Bruce worked less with patients and more in a support role for nurses. He ran errands for them, taking bloodwork to the lab and bringing them the equipment they needed.
“I was a little disappointed that I didn’t do more patient care,” he said, “but I still feel like I was able to support them in their mission to take care of the patients.”
At Beth Israel, Bruce also worked 14-hour days, though he switched from night to day shift. The hours were tough, but they weren’t the most challenging thing Bruce said he faced during his time in New York.
“The hours were one thing,” he said, “but we got through that. We were all working long hours. It wasn’t that.”
It was seeing patients continue to decline, and even die, after they received the best possible care.
“That was discouraging, as a nurse,” Bruce said.
For Bruce, the fact that they couldn’t heal everyone was especially difficult considering the holistic care DART provided. Not only did they commit to high-level physical care, they also gave patients access to chaplains and social workers to care for their souls and minds. Still, some struggled hard and lost against the coronavirus.
Not everyone lost, however. Bruce remembered one patient who had been in the hospital for over three weeks, been on a ventilator and survived. He, like every other successfully discharged patient, was rung out of the hospital with celebratory cowbells.
This recovery was special in another way, as well: The man converted to Christianity while he was in the hospital.
“A little bit of light in the darkness we saw there,” Bruce said.
The focus on Christ among the Samaritan’s Purse workers made an impression on Bruce.
“The encouragement from the team was huge,” he said.
He’d never worked in an environment like the field hospital before, and it was easy to feel overwhelmed. But he said everyone on DART was loving and supportive.
He contrasted that environment to other health-care environments he has worked in, where health-care workers sometimes don’t seem to have compassion for their patients and look down on them.
“These nurses …,” he said, “were so compassionate, so loving, and so interested in caring for these patients.”