ICU Nurse Reports from COVID-19 Epicenter

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You’ve heard that New York hospitals are like a war zone. And in this episode of The Roys Report, you’ll get a glimpse of that war from an ICU nurse serving in a New York City hospital at the COVID-19 epicenter.

Julie’s guest, Anne Frers, is a veteran nurse, working in an ICU unit that’s dedicated to COVID-19 patients at Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Anne told Julie. Though Anne said she’s certainly seen death before, she’s never seen it on this scale and “I have never seen patients dying . . . without having a loved one holding their hand.”

Anne also gives an update on her life. As you may recall, Anne was a source for a story Julie. wrote months ago, exposing how Harvest Bible Chapel failed to protect wives from their abusive husbands. Anne was one of those abused wives and is still involved in a legal battle with her ex-husband.

This Weeks Guests

Anne Frers

Lives in Virginia with her 3 children.  Works in DC as a nurse on a Pediatric Cardiac ICU. Loves: my Pug, the beach, hockey, and coffee.

Show Transcript

Note: This transcript has been edited slightly for continuity.

JULIE ROYS:  We’ve heard that New York hospitals are like a warzone. But today we’ll hear what it’s like from a nurse who’s serving in New York City on the frontlines. Welcome to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And today I’m coming to you from my home where we’re all sheltering in place. And we’re actually recording this podcast over Zoom. So you may notice a little difference in sound quality, but I appreciate your patience as we’re trying to make the best of a hard situation. And I so hope you’re staying well and safe in your homes as well. But today, I’m going to be speaking with someone who in my opinion, is one of our heroes. God bless our medical personnel and first responders. These people are so brave, instead of fleeing the danger, they’re battling it head on. And joining me today is someone who’s serving at Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens. This is the epicenter of the pandemic right now. And so, I’m so looking forward to our conversation. But before we dive into our discussion, I want to take a minute to thank our sponsors. One of them is Marquardt of Barrington. And right now you can shop for car at Marquardt from the comfort of your own home. To see their showroom just go to BuyACar123.com. And if you live in the Chicago area, Marquardt will drop off the car at your home for an extended test drive. Plus, right now Marquardt is offering zero percent financing for 84 months. That’s seven years of zero interest. So again, just go to BuyACar123.com. Also, I want to remind you that Judson University’s next World Leaders Forum is October 20 at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center. And the speaker for that event will be General David Petraeus, a four star general and former director of the CIA. I know that’s several months away, which is a good thing given our current crisis. But I want to encourage you to mark your calendars now for the World Leaders Forum on October 20th. For more information, just go to JudsonU.edu. Well again, joining me today is Anne Frers, a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens. You may also recognize Anne’s name because she was a source for an article I wrote several months ago. That article exposed how Harvest Bible Chapel failed to protect wives from abusive husbands. And Anne is one of those wives who bravely shared her story of abuse. So in my book, and as a hero for that, as well, so Anne welcome. It’s such a pleasure to have you join me.

ANNE FRERS: Thanks for having me, Julie.

JULIE ROYS:  So Anne, as I recall, you live in Virginia, not New York City. So I’m curious, how is it that you ended up working in the epicenter of this Coronavirus pandemic instead of home in Virginia?

ANNE FRERS: Sure, well, a typical week I work at Children’s National in DC and I work in the pediatric cardiac ICU, which does a lot of open heart surgeries and stuff of that nature. Given the current situation most surgeries have been canceled or census is way down. So I just wasn’t working very much. And at the same point, I’m watching the news and these desperate pleas for nurses. And I just kind of couldn’t justify sitting around and having days off when there’s this desperate need. So I signed up. And three days I was on the ground in New York.

JULIE ROYS:  Wow. And so you go to New York City for several days, and then you come back home to Virginia. Is that how it works? Like you get several long shifts or how is it working with your work schedule?

ANNE FRERS: Right, so I do three 12 hour shifts, I do a 36 hour . . .

JULIE ROYS:  Wow.

ANNE FRERS: . . . back to back. And then I drive back to my home, outside DC quarantined, I don’t go anywhere else. I go straight to my house. And then I homeschool my kids the rest of the week.

JULIE ROYS:  So I would love to know what is it like in New York City? Is it a warzone like so many are saying?

ANNE FRERS: I see a limited amount in New York City because I go from my hotel straight to the hospital. I can say the streets are completely empty. And there’s police everywhere kind of monitoring the situation. I do drive by the tents set up from different providers that have come. You see the big ship there awaiting more patients. And then as you get to the hospital itself, there’s the tent setup outside directing people where to go. So it’s a very surreal experience. If you’ve been to New York City before, you would hardly recognize it without the people.

JULIE ROYS:  It sounds a little bit like after 9/11. I happened to be there after 9/11, two weeks after 9/11 because my mother was having surgery and there happened to be a hospital there. It was the only one that would perform this surgery on my mother. And I remember walking down to ground zero with my father and it was several miles to ground zero and it was like you described. It’s quiet. Like, there were people on the streets, but it was just there was a somber feeling. And I’m sure they’re different experiences but at the same time dealing with so much death. Such a serious situation. I’m sure it just impacts the whole city. You feel it? What about in the hospital itself? Are you jam packed with people non stop?

ANNE FRERS: So I was put in, it’s a converted pack U usually seem to come patients coming out of surgery. It’s been converted to an ICU. It’s a unit dedicated to the sickest of the sickest. All on ventilators. All sedated, this nature. So I am in that makeshift ICU with approximately 13 patients. And I’m in there the entire shift. You don’t leave. You’re in full protective gear. And that’s where you stay And you care for those patients as they kind of go for different reasons.

JULIE ROYS:  So are most of those patients COVID patients?

ANNE FRERS: 100%. I’m on a COVID ICU. Correct.

JULIE ROYS:  Okay. Wow. I spoke recently to somebody who had had COVID and survived it and asked him this question, but I’d like to hear from your perspective as well. Because I’m hearing people say there’s both ends of the spectrum, right? There’s those that say, “Oh, it’s just a flu. Most everybody survives unless you’re in a high risk category. They’re making way too much of this disease.” And then I hear from other people who are like, “Oh, this isn’t like any flu you’ve ever experienced. It’s deadly. Even if you survive it, you still have suffered through two weeks, three weeks, however long. It is just an absolutely horrific experience.” Now I know you’re seeing the worst of the worst, but what’s your impression of this disease?

ANNE FRERS: So first, it’s unlike anything I have ever seen. Working a DC on an ICU with regulators ECMO pumps, I’m familiar with seeing flu patients need, who need those comfort cares in the end stages. I would say COVID is completely a different ballgame. You feel completely helpless. I think as a healthcare professional because there’s nothing you can do. These patients are receiving the highest level of support. And even that is often not enough. So it’s. I think it’s hard for people to really get a picture of how serious it is unless you actually see it. And I think once you’ve seen it, you’re going to be okay with staying inside for a couple weeks. And, and that’s not something that I think a lot of people just understand because they don’t see it. I think it’s it’s not tangible to them.

JULIE ROYS:  Does it make you scared to be working so closely with people who have COVID? And obviously, there’s, you have the protective gear and everything else. We’ve had first responders, a lot of first responders, and especially in New York City who have gotten this disease. Are you scared? Or how do you manage that fear?

ANNE FRERS: Sure. So yes. I think you should have a certain level of fear when you’re going into these situations. I think that keeps you safe. I feel like once I’m in my gear in the room, I’m not scared, I feel protected. I feel like the protective equipment, if it’s doing its job properly, I’m safe. When you’re taking off the protective equipment is your most vulnerable time. So I think those moments for me, I do feel those nerves of, you know, turning everything inside out as you’re taking it off. You also notice people aren’t taking breaks because they don’t want to get in and out of that equipment. Because that is your most vulnerable state. I think there’s a lot of risk involved with being a nurse in general. And I’ve been exposed to different things at different points. And so I think some of it isn’t maybe as difficult to wrap your mind around as it would be someone who has a desk job somewhere. You kind of sign up for it. And you see a lot of drama, working on an ICU constantly. So I’m used to living with a pretty high level of adrenaline.

JULIE ROYS:  Yeah, so I’ve talked to others. I talked to a doctor who said a similar thing, who was saying, “This is what we live for. This is what we’ve trained for.” I’m just curious for you, what made you go into this profession and obviously expose yourself to that risk?

ANNE FRERS: Sure, as a lot of people who know me know my first pregnancy was twins resulted in one surviving twin. They had a lot of complications–twin to twin transfusion syndrome. And we spent a lot of days in an ICU. And after I was done getting her through those early years, and there’s different delays and different appointments that need to be made, I really wanted to go back. I remember being in the hospital. And sometimes the way the nurse treated me or smiled at me that actually like kind of made it, made my day or broke my day if I didn’t feel like no one’s seeing me or giving me information. So I wanted to be that for someone else. And that’s kind of what I do on the pediatric ICU is I care for the patients. But I always have in the back of my mind what those parents are wanting to know. And not just smiling at them. And so I went into it for that.

JULIE ROYS:  Well, that’s wonderful. And I will say for the few times that I’ve been in the hospital really just for the the birth of my children, but the nurses made the experience. And it’s such an opportunity to touch somebody in a point where they’re really open and receptive to that. And needed. And so yeah, I think it’s a beautiful profession. And one of the things I’m really curious about because we’re hearing a lot about how our healthcare system isn’t prepared to deal with the level and the volume of patients coming in right now and even if there’s enough equipment. So I’m wondering one, is there enough equipment for doctors and nurses and people who are working with patients, the facemask, the shields, all of that? And secondly, are there enough ventilators especially in New York City where you have so many people that are needing them?

ANNE FRERS: As far as the protective equipment, yes and no. We have the protective equipment we need, but we need to reuse it for the entire shift. So you don’t want to take a break. You don’t want to leave the room and have to put it on. Because when you’re exposed to it, it’s going to be when you’re taking it on and off, right? Because it should be on the outside of your protective equipment. So we have a visor, we wear over both or mask. We only get one visor per shift. And we’re wiping it down with antibacterial wipes. When we come back into the room, we have one N-95 mask for the entire shift. And we cover that with a surgical mask to keep it clean, to keep it from getting saturated. But obviously you are hot, you’re sweaty. It’s just, it’s hard to properly take off a mask and then come back and put it back on. So I think that there’s a huge risk for exposure by doing that. So it’s a yes and no. As far as ventilators, “Are there enough?” I don’t know. Because all my patients are on ventilators right now. But what I do know is even if we get a bunch of ventilators, I don’t know where they’re going to find people to work them. So that’s the problem right now is that we do not have enough beds. We don’t have enough staff. A typical ICU ratio for a nurse would be one sometimes two ventilated patients. I’ve had six or seven. I mean, that’s outrageous. So I don’t know about the ventilators. But you can manufacture ventilators rather quickly. You can’t manufacture healthcare workers that quick.

JULIE ROYS:  Wow. Well, and so you really desperately need health care workers right now in New York City.

ANNE FRERS: Desperately. Desperately! They will plug you in the next day. And they’re making all kinds of exceptions with licensing, I think. Some healthcare professionals worry they’re not licensed in New York. There’s ways around that. So I’m only licensed in Virginia and DC. Yes. Absolutely, desperately hundreds of positions are open. And, you know, I do hear a lot about with the economy, a lot of people don’t have jobs. And so I would say at least for healthcare professionals, there’s a ton of jobs out there. And they’re begging for it.

JULIE ROYS:  Yeah. If there’s people listening right now, who are able to do that . . .

ANNE FRERS: Oh, I hope so.

JULIE ROYS:  And I know I’ve talked to some healthcare professionals who are feeling the pull and feeling guilty staying home and I think feeling exactly like you did when you were in Virginia. “Why don’t I go?” Tell me, do you have any stories of interactions with with patients or with their families that have impacted you? Because, I mean, obviously, you’re dealing with people who are really close to death. And I’m guessing there might be some of those opportunities, I don’t know. Because you might just be working with them when they’re intubated. There’s not going to have much of an interaction. But maybe with their families. Have you had any of those?

ANNE FRERS: Sure. Majority of my patients by the time I get them up, they’re already intubated, sedated, often paralyzed, chemically paralyzed. So a lot of my interactions have been with the family members. One patient in particular, we would consider him on the younger side, 40s, the daughter constantly calling in on his phone. So it’s sitting there and ringing or vibrating on his table. And, you know, he’s not going to be able to get to that. I have full protective equipment on. I have an insane caseload. And I see this daughter calling in and just trying to make those connections, where possible to do the video feed where you can show the family member the patients.

JULIE ROYS:  So you’re talking to to her on the phone and like showing her dad and trying to comfort her through that?

ANNE FRERS: You’re trying to do that. One of the hardest parts that I think some people can’t maybe visualize is the lack of information the families get. And even that the patients are getting from their families. There’s no visitors. Every person in the hospital is overworked and taxed. And so when it comes to a choice of making a phone call, or giving a life saving medication, you’re you have to go with the medicine. And yet on the back of your mind is always like, “the family doesn’t even know what’s going on right now.” In some cases, I haven’t experienced this, but I’ve heard family members don’t even know which hospital their family member was taken to. So that is a new element to this position that I’m not used to. I’m used to dealing with the medicine and the family in the room. I’m not used to being first of all the sole emotional caregiver for the patient while I’m caring for them, but then also trying to navigate how to update the family and find the family.

JULIE ROYS:  Wow.

ANNE FRERS: That definitely adds a level of complexity.

JULIE ROYS:  I’ve heard that one of the really sad things about this is that when you die from COVID, you die alone, because nobody’s with you. Right?

ANNE FRERS: That is true. And by far the most horrific element of COVID, in my opinion. You never get used to seeing people die, ever. But I do see it a lot in the work I do at at home and in New York City. But I have never seen patients dying and knowing they’re dying, without having a loved one holding their hand or telling them how much they love them. And I would say the same is true for the families. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be waiting by the phone wondering. Or, “Am I going to get a call, ‘They’re better?'” “Am I going to get a call, ‘They died?'” That’s horrific.

JULIE ROYS:  The family doesn’t even come into the hospital, do they?

ANNE FRERS: No. They’re not allowed. Period. No visitors. And once you’re intubated, there’s no way for them to talk. No. So it’s horrific.

JULIE ROYS:  Oh! That’s just awful! So of the people on your unit, what percent are getting better and what percent are dying?

ANNE FRERS: I don’t want to cast a negative light. I guess I fear sometimes saying these things because of the people who come, we treat them actively. Like, they’re able to recover. But we do see 95 to 100% of the patients who make it to my unit will die.

JULIE ROYS:  Wow.

ANNE FRERS: And so, they have different levels of ICU in the hospital. And there’s different, you know, levels of care. And so, we’re getting the sickest of the sickest of the sickest. They’re very sick.

JULIE ROYS:  Wow. And I’m guessing you’ve never seen that much death?

ANNE FRERS: No, never.

JULIE ROYS:  I don’t even know. I mean, at this point, you’re going from working at the hospital, quarantining a couple days, homeschooling your kids and then back to the war zone again. Have you had any chance to process this? Or do you feel like it’s one of those things you just kind of set on the shelf and I’ll process this when I’m done?

ANNE FRERS: Yeah, I do. I do process it. I go back to the hotel by myself. So my kids are not in the hotel with me when I’m coming back. And I am so overstimulated from sounds and sights and chaos. I usually just end up sitting there. I’m so tired. I don’t watch TV. I don’t do anything. And I think that’s when for the first time I actually am processing, “What just happened?” It’s not in the moment that I’m feeling heartbroken for the family or the patients. I mean, I’m there to do a job. I am just constantly bombarded with tasks. It’s afterwards that . . .  Honestly, I’m thinking about the families. And I’m wondering, “did they get the call ready?” Or you know, who was part of this man’s family? “Does he have a wife? Does he have kids?” That kind of stuff. So yeah, definitely. You think about it. You think about it a lot.

JULIE ROYS:  Sure. I know one of the things that you mentioned is that through this spiritually, it’s just been hard. And you had come out–and this was in the story that I did–you’re still in the midst of a struggle with your ex husband, who you were in an abusive relationship. And those who have read your story–and I’m guessing a lot of people who are listening have read your story. And it’s been a difficult journey for you. But spiritually–and you can share as much as you feel comfortable with but–how are you processing this with the Lord? Do you feel that you are–how is your faith doing in the midst of all this?

ANNE FRERS: Yeah, that’s, that’s a complicated question and answer. I would say my faith most definitely has taken a hit over the last few years. But particularly in the last year as things came to the front with Harvest and  going through the court system with the trials. And now with this. It’s hard for me to pinpoint where I’m at, I would say, on my spiritual journey. I think my faith looks very different than it did two or three years ago. I think parts of it are stronger and that I am absolutely assured there is a God. Yet at the same point, I feel very disillusioned in some ways by the church. And by Christians themselves. And just kind of working through the bitterness, I think, of that. I would say I’m fighting for it. I’m not ready to give up. But I think I have right now more doubts, perhaps, right now than I do answers. I think those doubts are probably a lot louder to me right now than scripture is. And so I don’t know where this is going to take me at this point. But . . .

JULIE ROYS:  Yeah, and and for those who are listening, if you haven’t read an story, you can do it, you can read it, her story at my website JulieRoys.com. And there’s a story there about it, “How Harvest Failed to Protect Wives from Abuse.” And you had a husband who was a pastor. And for 12 years was pastoring within the Harvest Bible Fellowship, the former church planting network of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago. And you weren’t protected by the very people who should have protected you. And by the people who were supposed to be shepherding. And they didn’t. And the church did  let you down. And I think we all grieve with you over that. And and I’m sorry. What happened to you should never happen to anyone ever. And it’s wrong. And it was sin. And you were so brave in telling your story and bringing some light into a situation that for so often, you know, it’s just sort of put in a corner, nobody talks about it. And I think as a result, there’s, I mean, I heard from a lot of women who have been abused who were really ministered to through that. So I just want to thank you for doing that. That took as much bravery or maybe more even than what you’re doing now serving in New York. So thank you.

ANNE FRERS: Well that’s kind, Julie. I appreciate it. And that makes me think just going back to the beginning, how you opened things, with saying about the medical professionals being heroes and these very kind words. And certainly, I take them to heart. And believe me, I think we all need the encouragement for sure. I think that ties into what we were saying even with the church and how it’s affecting my faith is I think I’m surprised sometimes by how heroic Christians think I have been through this. Because sometimes I just see these events as, “Isn’t this what we should be doing?” And I would say that even going to New York, I’m trained for a job. And there’s a demand for that job. So I go. And I guess things that we might consider heroic is what I’m seeing lacking in some senses in some churches, not all churches, I see a limited amount. And just seeing people do things that it might cost you, it might cost you to stick up for that woman. Or it might cost your ministry to speak out on abuse. Or it might cost you to leave your family and go. But if you have it within your means, and ability to do something to do good, do it. And I appreciate people telling me, they’re going to pray for me, and I appreciate people sending me scripture. But sometimes I think, just go do something. And I don’t even know as Christians, if we should say that’s heroic, to stand up for abuse victims or to stand up for dying patients as much as it is. That should be a very regular occurrence. And that’s the part where I feel a little bit disillusioned with the church and watching the response to COVID. To abuse. To any of these hardships. I guess that’s been a challenge to me.

JULIE ROYS:  Yeah, I hear you. I hear you. And I don’t know how many people, well I guess why I see it as heroic is because I do ask so many people that have the capacity to tell their stories and to bring light. And there’s a sizeable proportion who don’t. And the reason they don’t is exactly what you said. That it would cost them something. And I think we have forgotten Jesus’ words that if we want to follow after Him, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him. That should be normal for Christians. And so I hear you and Amen. Amen to everything you said. Lastly, because I know people would want an update with your situation, I think at the end of my article, you had just gone through a court battle with your husband to get custody of your kids. You obviously do have custody, although I think it’s shared. But your husband recently–I’ve seen the documents, which are public documents–where he was charged recently with assault. And you got a protective order against him. So, I mean, what’s next for you? And how does that impact your situation?

ANNE FRERS: There’s limited amounts I can share because it is an ongoing case with a pending trial. I think things continue to move forward, but very, very slowly. The court system, it’s slow. It’s extraordinarily expensive. It’s taxing. But there’s forward movement. I’d share more about that, but the pending trial. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.

JULIE ROYS:  I totally understand that having been on the receiving end of a lawsuit. I know. Often, there’s much more that you could say that you can’t say because of that. So I think Lastly, I just like to know how we can pray for you and pray for others who are serving with you on the frontlines of this whole COVID crisis.

ANNE FRERS: I appreciate that. Really, my my biggest prayer would be absolutely you could say from a sanctification. I think it can be easier for me to go into work than it is to come home from that experience and then yet still be fully present patient loving and kind as I’m homeschooling my kids. So there’s just a lot of dynamics. So just for me as a single mom, there’s a pretty big amount of isolation and loneliness. I think you feel as a single parent during this time, I think people feel lonely for different reasons, but not having someone you know, at the end of the day to come home and process the hospital with. No one to share that burden with schooling. I think it’s just kind of amplified that isolation that much more.

JULIE ROYS:  Yeah, I mean, all of us are kind of, we’re at a stay-at-home order. A lot of people are around the country. Most everybody is now. And that has its own challenges, but you’re with your family. And for you so much of your life right now is in isolation and then being on an ICU. That’s, that’s intense. So can I just pray for you right now?

ANNE FRERS: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you.

JULIE ROYS:  Father, I thank you for Anne. And I thank you for her sacrifice and the sacrifice of so many nurses and doctors and first responders right now. Lord, we ask that you would be with them. You would protect them. And Lord, we asked for lifting of this scourge, really, that’s on our country and on the whole world right now that You would quickly bring this Coronavirus pandemic to an end or at least to an easing. But Lord, we ask in the midst of it, that You would use this difficulty for our own sanctification. And like Anne said, to be able to process this in a way that would move us to a better place Lord as people. And Lord I do just ask for for Anne, Lord that as she so openly and vulnerably talked about her own doubts and struggling with bitterness with those who have really disappointed her in the church. Father, I pray that you would bring healing to that. And Lord that she would know the depth of Your love and the depth of Your grieving over what happened to her and the depths of Your anger at Your church for not behaving the way that it should have. And for people, Christian leaders who didn’t protect her in a way that they should have. And Lord, we pray for her ex-husband Lord that you would bring him to repentance over his sin. And over what he has done. We commit all these things into Your hands, and in Jesus name. Amen.

ANNE FRERS: All right. Thank you Julie.

JULIE ROYS:  Oh, you’re very welcome. Thank you. And just so appreciate everything you’re doing. And thanks for being willing to come on this podcast and take this time with us. Really appreciate it.

ANNE FRERS: Thanks for having me.

JULIE ROYS:   Well, and thanks so much for listening to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And if you’d like to find me online, just go to JulieRoys.com. Hope you have a great day. Stay safe and healthy. And God bless.

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