Thursday, July 16, 2020

Texas Nurse Practitioner And Marathoner Answers NYC COVID Call

(I learned today that five pieces of content that I had submitted to Texas Runner and Triathlete editor Lance Phegley to be included in an edition that was to feature what runners and triathletes did to keep themselves motivated during the COVID-19 pandemic was not included by the publisher in the purported last issue of the magazine.  As a result, I'm posting the content here on the blog to share with those who might have expected to see it.  I haven't seen the publication yet, but it is my understanding that the number of pages was dramatically reduced from the last quarterly edition.)

What are friends for, right?

Conroe’s Holly Benson will one day look back on March of this year and -- tell you’d she sign up again for all of what her good friends got her into.

After finishing six marathons in 13 months (the last being January’s Chevron Houston Marathon), the 33-year-old family nurse practitioner decided to have some fun for the Fidelity Investments The Woodlands Marathon the first Saturday of March.

Cajoled by her Volte Endurance Running teammate Bonnie Scholz, Benson and running partner Mayra Caamano, also of Volte, and Zero Dark Thirty’s Meredith Moss dressed up as superwomen and ran – all smiles - to a 3:12:39 second-place four-women marathon relay finish.

Three weeks later, a fellow family nurse practitioner reached out to Benson with an opportunity that she had discovered with a staffing company to go to New York City -- to care for patients in one of the world’s COVID-19 hotspots.

Less than 96 hours later and after a flurry of paperwork, packing, arranging for child care and managing her own personal anxiety, Benson and her friend were on a plane to the Big Apple.

Flying on wings of support from family, friends and well-wishers back home.

“My husband was incredibly supportive and understanding due to his experiences in his career, and he understood the risks as well,” she said.  “He simply kept encouraging me to remain strong and be as safe as I knew to be.”

She was assigned to care for patients at Harlem Hospital.

“Initially, I was working as a nurse practitioner on a general medical floor that was all COVID patients, ideally either improving to go home or were on hospice care,” she said.

Benson said that she cared for patients from the ages of 26 to 91.

She was able to leverage her nursing background at M.D. Anderson that involved Stem Cell Transplants in hematology and oncology patients, which she says often were situations of high acuity.

“The type of acuity seen with the COVID patients was certainly different than I or any of the other staff had seen,” she added.  “Traditional treatments and methods were not working and we were all learning together.”

Two weeks into her planned three-week stint, she was asked to transfer to the research team there at Harlem Hospital because the medications being used in research were similar to those she worked with at M.D. Anderson.

“To assist in research for COVID in the heat of THE pandemic struck a chord in my heart,” she explained.  “It was a way to really try to help proactively versus reactively.

“Since my husband and daughter were managing very well, I signed up for another 21-day rotation.  The decision was incredibly difficult, yet it felt like the right one and I do not regret it one bit.”

And because of the care at the outpatient family clinics she works at in north Houston, her company was supportive and saw it “as an opportunity for me to learn and be available as a resource concerning COVID to the company once I returned.”

When you meet Benson, it is clear how she carries herself that she lives her faith, yet she said – despite her faith – she “never felt fully safe”.

“I have a fair amount of faith in our attempts as healthcare providers to prevent infection, and I have an incredible amount of faith in God,” she said.  “I don’t believe that faith in God makes me above the capacity of being infected, as many of the sick also believe in Him!

“I felt as though it was completely possible that I might become infected; it’s such a new virus and the modes of transmission include airborne in a setting where patients are ventilated.

“I understood the risk I was taking and simply hoped and prayed that my health and fitness combined with my extreme efforts to prevent infection would be enough.”

Working 12-hour shifts for 32 of the 37 days she was in New York City didn’t give Benson too much time to keep up training as she said that her mileage was about eight to 10 miles per week.

“The running I was able to accomplish was incredibly therapeutic,” she said.

She said she ran in Central Park as it was close to the hotel they were stationed at.

“In those moments, life felt a bit normal and hope would reignite,” she said.  “I often prayed while running, and I found peace with God and His creation in my soul while running and praying.

“Tears were not lacking during some of these times remembering the tragedies I had seen and frustration over the oddities of the pathology of this wicked virus.

“Running provided a mental reset. Clarity. Peace. Hope. Gratitude for my health and this unique opportunity to try to help.”

And her help was greatly appreciated – by her people at home – whose concerns weren’t alleviated until she returned home, tested negative and was illness-free -- and those of New York City.

Her running friends couldn’t help think of the irony of her being dressed as a superwoman a month or two before donning different gear and being seen as a hero for – like a police officer or fireman or women – rushing to the hot-spot of a pandemic.

She insisted, though, that she doesn’t “feel like I am a hero”, saying that she was “just doing what I am supposed to do. It’s what I was created to do.”

However, “the showering of love from the people of NYC and my circle of friends and family has been so amazing and appreciated. It’s very humbling,” she added.

She said while she was in New York City she was always surprised and humbled when the citizens - especially children - would cheer and thank us while simply walking down the street.

Personally and professionally, Benson said she was stretched like never before.

“I was able to learn on the front lines of the pandemic with some of the brightest, hardest working professionals I have ever known,” she said.  “I have learned, as with running, that I am capable of much more than I ever thought possible by working so many endless days in such stressful situations.

“My resolve to live life to the fullest is a resolve I developed while working with oncology patients; it has been strengthened by this situation. I am blessed to have been allowed this experience and I pray that God continues to see fit to use me as He needs.”

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