In early March, Alyssa Nagai was living a good life. The 2014 Chaminade alumna would work her nursing shifts at Maui Memorial Medical Center, and always enjoyed coming home to her little dog who would jump on her as soon as she walked through the door. She loved living on Maui, and it was an easy and short flight to see her family back home in Oahu.
She felt comfortable at her job. Her time at Chaminade had prepared her well, and had given her the skills and knowledge she needed to be successful.
But nothing could have prepared her for what came next.
“The nursing and the schooling part of Chaminade definitely prepared me to be a nurse,” says Nagai. “But I don’t know if anyone was really ready for a pandemic to hit.”
When COVID-19 made its way to the Islands, overnight her days became longer and her job became a lot scarier.
Her hospital floor was quickly turned into a COVID unit, and chaos ensued. Policies and procedures kept changing—no one really knew what to expect or what to do. The disease was still so new and unpredictable.
“It was really scary,” says Nagai. “I think every day, or sometimes every hour, things were changing when it came to PPE, or just everything. Policies kept changing and it was really frustrating.”
Her unit converted into a closed unit, meaning team members weren’t allowed to come and go from the floor. It also meant nurses were doing total care for their patients, without help from nurse aides and patient care specialists.
It made for really long, emotionally draining days.
“You see what people are going through, and it’s scary on their end too,” says Nagai. “It was hard emotionally, for everyone.”
It was particularly hard when she saw her coworkers fall ill. “We all kind of saw this coming, we knew that we had the risk of getting sick,” says Nagai. “But it’s scary because you see these people every day and you can’t really help it.”
It was also lonely. For Nagai, the hardest part was staying away from the people she loved and cared about.
“I’d be afraid to hang out with people, and I knew they were afraid to see me too, because no one knew if they had it.”
When she would return home from her shift, she’d immediately shower off and try to stay away from people as much as possible. “I’d try to shower before my little dog would jump on me,” recalls Nagai. “You just feel dirty coming out of there.”
Nagai felt good about what she was doing. She knew she was helping. But she wasn’t sure other people saw it that way. Fears and anxieties were high all around the Island. It didn’t help hearing stories of how people were treating other healthcare professionals, like the story she heard about a nurse who went to the grocery store and had things thrown at her.
Now that COVID numbers have begun to slow down in Hawaii, Nagai’s unit is mostly back to normal. “There are still some changes in place, like the break rooms are different. We can’t be around a bunch of people anymore.”
Nagai has a positive outlook on what the future brings. She’s hopeful there won’t be too much of a second wave, and she’s enjoying the new teamwork and collaboration that has come out of the hospital. Everyone seems to have a new perspective and appreciation for everyone else now.
“When we were doing total care for our patients, I gained a whole new perspective on what nurse aides do,” admits Nagai. “It feels really good to be back to normal (or the “new normal).”