Balmer notes changes in NYC’s COVID-19 crisis

Family Nurse Practitioner Aubrey Balmer (far right) and her coworkers don home-sewn masks to work in New York City.

Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing  Writer

Editor’s note: Aubrey Balmer, a Family Nurse Practitioner has spent the last two weeks in New York serving on the frontlines of the Covid-19 crisis. The following chronicles her second week on the job.

Balmer video chats with her son, Breck.

Headlines around the country last week read “Queens leads NYC with more than 33,000 infections and 2,100 deaths of the Coronavirus.” To put that into perspective, Queens is reporting about the same number of positive COVID-19 patients as Macon County has residents. Queens is the area of New York City that Franklin resident Aubrey Balmer was assigned when she arrived in the city as a health care worker. 

Despite last week’s headlines, Balmer said she is seeing improvements in the city. 

“They’re downsizing our facility to a 100-bed from 450 and are farming providers out into the hospitals,” said Balmer. That’s a good thing – case numbers are improving. Some of us NP’s [Nurse Practitioners] with ICU experience may switch and do ICU because that’s where the need is.”

Since arriving in New York City two weeks ago for her 30- day stint working at the epicenter of COVID-19, the day-to-day for Balmer has continued to change and a plan for one day can be completely different by the next. 

“On the ground, there’s been a plateau of cases. The curve is trending differently than anyone expected,” said Balmer. “I, for one, am happy the other two tent hospitals (one in Long Island and one in Brooklynn) were put on hold. That means people are recovering or not as many cases. In the hospitals, they have had seven weeks of exhaustion – exhausted providers, exhausted of space to put patients, exhaustion of PPE [personal protective equipment] – all very real issues that prompted aid to be brought in.”

When Balmer first spoke to The Macon County News about her decision to leave her family in Colorado and travel to New York, she admitted she didn’t know what to expect and had no expectations. Rather than watch news of the outbreak, Balmer had made the decision to shelter herself from it. However, after arriving in the city and being placed in the middle of it, she has firsthand knowledge to describe what it is really like – beyond what is seen on television. 

“I keep getting asked if things are as bad as the news says they are,” said Balmer. “Well, in some instances, yes. I’m not going to talk about what I’ve seen. I’m not going to discuss the politics or ‘red tape’ that has played into the role we’re playing here in NYC. Why? Because that’s not going to benefit anyone. We’ve all heard the adage, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ I argue that it’s not the situations that make you stronger but what you choose to do with it. It’s what you choose to do with this distinct moment in history, the COVID-19 epidemic of 2020 that is shaping the person you will be from here on forward. A strong, wholesome character doesn’t just appear in a person, it is developed. Your future is intentional.”

Choosing to let her experiences shape her for the better – Balmer thinks about her son back at home, with whom she video chats, and how he would view the kindness of those surrounding her. 

“What I can tell you is my son would be so impacted by the people around me,” said Balmer. “People in the neighborhoods near a few of our hotels have taken rotations bringing hot food or random toiletries to the hotels for healthcare workers. The city breaks out in cheer for healthcare workers every night at 7 p.m. High rises all over the city are full of children watching a city support healing in their communities.”

In terms of personal impact, Balmer said she is processing everything and everyone, all of which impacts her.  

“On a personal level I’m next to people who left everything to risk whatever may come,” said Balmer. “One NP decided to go into medicine after she lost a mother to AIDS after it was accidentally contracted from a blood transfusion. She has taken on caring for our patients that are HIV positive. We have hands holding the hands of people who were put on dying and facilitating Skype calls to family members even though it was recommended that no one go in the room unless absolutely necessary, but they chose to do their best to make a death one of dignity and peace. Each one of us has a trajectory we are feeding into.”

After two weeks of long 12-hour days, with no days off in between shifts, Balmer hopes to implore those following her journey to ignite change…for the better. 

“In a time when rationale says to hold back and conserve, I’m encouraging you to wow the people in your life. Be generous, whether that’s financially to people in need, or offering comfort and hope in a time of anxiety, or with skills: cooking for elderly or sewing masks. COVID is significant, but not compared to how you allow it to shape you,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed and humbled by the love and support of the Macon County community – letters, messages, calls, prayers. I feel so blessed, in tears at times. My hope is that you’d take that energy and your resources and put that into those around you. This crisis and your response in it feed into what will one day just be a legacy.”