A COVID-19 ICU nurse who waged her own battle against the virus for three grueling months now is working in El Paso to keep serving patients suffering from the disease. 

“I know that El Paso is starting to become one of the hotspots in America and they need help,” said the nurse, who asked not to be identified because her employer has told workers not to speak to the media. She also asked that the hospital she is assigned to not be disclosed.

She is a traveling nurse specializing in pulmonary infections, so she was immediately assigned to the COVID unit in her previous traveling assignment. 

The nurse was working two months in the COVID intensive care unit of her hospital when she became infected with the novel coronavirus. She said she was left unprotected in front of a coughing patient. 

Within days, the nurse began to feel sick. She had fever, chills, shortness of breath, headaches and fatigue. 

“At first I was really scared because being in the ICU I’ve literally seen the worst of the worst and for weeks we didn’t know why all of these patients were dying so suddenly because we just had no idea how to really combat COVID,” the nurse said. “So then of course I was very scared that I would become very sick. I felt like I would be OK because age is on my side, however, COVID has shown us that we just never know how it’s going to affect anybody.” 

Her recovery took three months. During that time she said she felt a sense of guilt for having to sit on the sidelines. She eventually was able to return to work, but not without some reservations. 

“When I was coming back to work in the ICU I was really anxious and I was scared, having some PTSD of getting sick from work, I would tell myself ‘I cannot get sick from COVID again,’” the nurse said. 

Even as she returned to work, the fatigue and some dizziness lingered. 

“It was difficult. Even doing the simplest things that I never had trouble with before was such a challenge, like bathing my patients,” the nurse said.  

She even had to warn her coworkers and supervisors about her physical limitations while she built her stamina back up. 

“I just made it very clear that if any of my patients would have cardiac arrest I would not be able to do chest compressions.”

Once the nurse felt confident enough, she signed up for her next travel assignment, the next U.S. COVID-19 hotspot — El Paso. 

“I felt this was the moment I had been training for my whole career and I couldn’t do what I was trained to do because I was sick,” the nurse said. 

Medical personnel, many from out of town, staff the auxiliary medical unit in the Texas Tech parking lot on Monday. The unit was built to hold patients as hospitals like nearby University Medical Center reached capacity due to the surge in COVID-19 cases. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

She said she’s now spent hundreds of dollars to protect herself while on the job and purchased her own supply of N95 masks, goggles, scrub caps, and disinfectant wipes. 

“I’ve learned my lesson that you cannot rely on anybody else to protect you, you have to make it happen for yourselves,” the nurse said. “I would rather spend this money than get sick again. So I try to look at it as an investment into my future health.” 

The nurse works 12 hour shifts. So far, all of her patients have been on ventilators and only one has had the ability to speak. 

“COVID is 100 percent real and it is spreading like wildfire and for us health-care workers to better help all of you, we need to just slow the spread,” the nurse said. “You never know how it’s going to affect you, your grandmother, your dad.”

Claudia Tristán previously worked as a television reporter for five years across Western Texas and New Mexico. She has experience in both English and Spanish television news. As a journalist, Tristán...