Thu | Mar 4, 2021

J’can nurse risks it all to help save lives in US

Published:Wednesday | January 20, 2021 | 12:10 AMCecelia Campbell-Livingston/Gleaner Writer
Jamaican nurse, Kashina McLean.
Jamaican nurse, Kashina McLean.

Jamaican Nurse Kashina McLean has been giving it her all, even to the point of risking her own life in the fight against the dreaded COVID-19 virus.

After working in the Jamaican healthcare system for almost nine years, McLean, in 2018, migrated to the United States in search of a better life.

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, she confessed to facing what seemed like insurmountable challenges on the job, one of which was the exposure she faced when interacting with patients, most of whom were not routinely tested for the virus. She said inconsistencies in the information that was being transmitted about the virus and what precautionary measures should be taken to mitigate against it, as well as critically low staffing levels, are also some of the things she navigated at the hospital where she works in Pennsylvania.

“It is a very scary time to be a nurse. This pandemic has caused some amount of increased anxiety and stress to all front-line workers,” she shared with The Gleaner.

It does not help, however, that the staff are expected to reuse certain PPE such as N-95 for days at a time, and have them sterilised and used again.

“In addition, patients who present with atypical symptoms or none at all, are not tested for COVID-19, but sometimes prove to be positive days later after nurses and other staff have been exposed to them,” she pointed out.

However, McLean’s biggest fear came when after all the precautions she took, she contracted the virus and unknowingly infected her family.

“The worst part for me was taking the virus home to my family and not being aware I had it until my husband, who is asthmatic, became very sick and almost lost his life,” she recalled.

Now, she practises extra vigilance in protecting herself and her loved ones.

Decontaminating Ritual

McLean said she ensures that she practises very rigid precautionary measures while at work, and maintains a routine decontaminating ritual before going home, as, she said, prevention still is the best cure.

Caring for COVID-19 patients has been taking its toll on her, and she said she has seen many heart rending things while on the job.

“I have had patients who transition from life to death and as a nurse, I try to ensure the individual makes such a transition with dignity and with as little fear and anxiety as possible. A very important part of a dying patient’s care is psychosocial, emotional support,” she shared, adding that one of the hardest things to watch is a patient dying alone and afraid. She said although the nurse is there doing everything she can, it is not the same without their loved ones.

“It is very difficult for both patients and their loved ones alike who are robbed of the opportunity to spend the last moments with the ones they most care about,” McLean shared.

McLean thanks God every day for her nursing experience in Jamaica, as she firmly believes that it has given her an advantage in coping on the front line.

“A Jamaican nurse is seen as resilient, experienced and hard-working. We receive some of the most rigorous training and are capable of working in some of the most stressful conditions. This gives us a clear advantage over the nurses trained here (US). As we would say, we are the ones who ‘hold down the fort’. We work the craziest shifts, care for the sickest patients, and [you] best believe, we have challenges that are unique to us being Jamaicans in a foreign country,” she said.

Difficult but Rewarding

For McLean, who was born in Kingston but spent the greater part of her life in Mamee Bay, St Ann, although on a particularly gruelling day she will question why she took up the profession, it is always just a temporary state of mind, because she would not trade impacting the lives she comes in contact with for anything.

As she said, she didn’t choose nursing, it, instead, chased her down and chose her, making her one happy Jamaican nurse, even in a global pandemic.