Knoxville nurse recalls 'darkest' moment fighting COVID-19 in New York City

Jennifer Byrd was helping COVID-19 efforts in NYC at a Brooklyn hospital. / Source: (Jennifer...
Jennifer Byrd was helping COVID-19 efforts in NYC at a Brooklyn hospital. / Source: (Jennifer Byrd)(WVLT)
Published: May. 20, 2020 at 4:17 PM EDT
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A Knoxville nurse who spent weeks fighting COVID-19 on the front lines in New York City, returned to East Tennessee and went straight into quarantine.

Originally, Jennifer Byrd was contracted to remain in New York through June 16. When Governor Cuomo extended an executive order allowing out of state nurses to continue working in New York, the agency Byrd was contracted through agreed to keep her in the city until June 6.

"But the hospital I was at terminated my contract early because the number of patients was so low, which is a good thing for them, they weren’t being overrun by patients, which is definitely good," said Byrd.

Byrd explained to WVLT News Anchor Amanda Hara on Wednesday she was in her second day of a 14-day quarantine. At the time of the interview, Byrd had not received the results from an antibody test she took, but roughly an hour after the interview, her results came back negative.

She said it was strange flying home when those results were pending, "It was a little weird for me to fly back just knowing that I had pending results however, I have felt good I haven’t been symptomatic, which as we know doesn’t always mean you’re not a carrier, so I wore my mask religiously throughout the airports on the airplanes," said Byrd.

But the real shock hit when she connected in Atlanta, "It was packed with people, nobody was wearing masks, nobody was social distancing and it was a shell shock after what I’ve experienced the past four weeks in New York."

Byrd described an emotional moment as she waited for her plane in New York.

"As I was sitting at the gate they paged my name overhead and I didn’t know what was going on so I walked over to the gate agent and they hand me this giant gift bag and announced over the intercom at LaGuardia that I was a healthcare worker that had traveled there to work in the pandemic. The whole terminal erupted in applause and it was equally embarrassing as it was amazing and just gave me chill bumps it was so amazing for the support," she said.

Bryd also recalled one of the toughest parts of her journey treating patients, "One of the darkest ones I can remember we had a patient we were working on that was extremely critical. There was about seven doctors and respiratory therapists surrounding this one patient and they ordered a med and the hospital was out of that med. So they had to figure out a way to work with another kind of medication for a similar effect. We all just stopped and you could hear a pin drop, we were like, what do you mean we’re out of this medication, it’s a frequently used med. How can you be out? And then it dawned on us, they’re out because of what they’re been through the last few weeks."

However, not all moments were bad for Bryd, "One of the brightest ones was my last night. I had the sweetest patient I was taking care of. I told her I was going to be heading home. I told her I was from Tennessee and she almost started crying and goes, 'Well thank God there’s people like you, I’m going to pray for you.' She was sick and just thanking us and wanting to pray for me and thanking all the nurses and that was definitely a special moment," said Byrd.

You can learn more about Byrd's journey

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