Maria "Pinky" R I Could Hear Them Calling Codes

“I will be forever grateful to them.”

“Helpless.” That’s how Nurse Manager Maria “Pinky” Ruiz, MSM, BSN, RN, CCRN, describes her experience as a COVID-19 patient. In the course of covering COVID-19 units at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Rahway, she had caught the virus, though she didn’t realize it at first. Chills, a high fever, dehydration and symptoms of a urinary tract infection increased until she had to admit that she needed to go to the Emergency Department.

She could have gone to a hospital nearer to her home in Harrison, but she insisted on going to RWJUH Rahway. “I have full confidence in all the physicians, nurses, in everyone there,” Pinky, as she prefers to be called, says. “I knew that patients there get the best care.” A COVID-19 swab confirmed a positive diagnosis. Pinky became a patient on a unit where she was usually the one doing rounds.

Her condition didn’t respond to treatment, and she had vomiting and diarrhea. “I knew I was getting sicker. I could see that the oxygen levels in my blood were low,” Pinky recalls. “No visitors were allowed. I told the staff my only request was, please don’t let me die by myself.” Because she is a nursing supervisor, her phone was continuing to receive alerts about emergencies in the hospital.

“I could hear them calling codes and the room numbers. I could hear that people were dying all around me. I would sit up in bed and pray, ‘Please, don’t let me be next.’” The combined efforts of specialists in infectious disease, pharmacy and nursing eventually hit upon the combination of medications that would start Pinky on the road to recovery.

“I will be forever grateful to them,” she says. She’s grateful, too, for the kind and sympathetic care she received from a range of caregivers. “The nursing assistants who bathed me, the nurses who without my asking would bring me a box of tissues or a cup of ice. The nurse who brought me an extra cup of tea in the morning. Yes, they’re there because they have a job to do—taking vitals, whatever— but they went above and beyond.

“I’m a critical care nurse, we save lives. I know all about dramatic scenes, pumping on people’s chests, all that. But the biggest takeaway I have now is that it’s the little things that count, because you’re helpless and can’t do anything. The small things you do are so meaningful, and that is what people will remember you by.” Pinky spent 10 days in Care Connection, a subacute unit at RWJUH Rahway for recovering COVID-19 patients.

As soon as she was discharged, she began to count the days until she could get back to work. “I want to say thank you to everybody who touched me,” Pinky says. “I’m also concerned about the people on our staff who saw so much death and suffering. How can we help them? That’s another reason I want my colleagues to see me come back. Not everything is doom and gloom; there are successes.

“And here I am, I’m the example. Thanks to their care, I’m walking the halls and making rounds again.”