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Drexel nurse describes work in pandemic

By Chance Chamberlain

Saturday is the Fourth of July and Drexel will be celebrating with a parade beginning at 10 a.m. Missing from the event, however, will be the Grand Marshal Richelle Jackson.

Jackson, a nurse, was to be celebrated for having spent 73 days working for a crisis relief agency in a COVID-19 make-shift hospital in Roosevelt Island, which is part of New York City. Although home for less than a week, Jackson’s home-coming was cut short as her agency assigned her to Texas this week.

Jackson said the time she spent working at the hospital was unforgettable.

When she arrived at her Times Square hotel April 13, she said the city looked like a ghost town. The streets were empty as most New Yorkers remained at home due to the stay-at-home order issued by State Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Jackson said, “I was terrified to be thrown into so many new territories.”

She said her concern came for the facts she was in a major city for the first time, fighting a new disease with little information about the prevention or treatment. Adding to the stress of the job was New York City’s pre-existing nursing staff shortage.

The hospital where Jackson worked had not been in operation for 10 years. The main floor looked like a normal hospital.

The building’s other six floors were dormitory style with long hallways and many rooms. Patients admitted to the hospital did not have their own bathrooms as facilities were shared by the entire floor.

She said her first days at the hospital were spent setting up. Upon her arrival, there were no beds in the building and supplies were scarce.

Jackson and her colleagues served patients seven days a week, 12 hours a day. Patients were mostly men, aged 30 to 40 years old, a fact she said surprised her.

Jackson said, “We believed that the elderly population was the most at risk, but we quickly realized it was middle-aged men.”

She said patients experienced trouble breathing because of blood clotting in the lungs. Blood clotting caused more troubles than breathing alone, making it hard to run a proper IV.

Patients were to be laid on their stomachs to aid breathing, opposed to the standard upright position used to open airways.

The new technique for COVID treatment left many patients with pressure sores on their cheeks and front of legs.

Nearing the end of her service on Roosevelt Island, Jackson’s daily routing was interrupted by riots in Times Square.

“I was terrified to walk down the street to get groceries because I could have become a target for rioters.”

As a result of the increased danger, the nurses were moved to a new hotel in Manhattan. Not long after the move, the city of New York began to flatten the curve and Jackson was sent home.

During her service in New York City, Jackson sent three COVID patients back home to their families.

In regard to her marshal status at Drexel’s Fourth of July parade, Jackson said, “I don’t feel like I deserve to be honored like this…I feel very blessed.”

Jackson was given the honor by Drexel Fire Chief Sheryl Greene, along with other members of the parade committee.

Greene said, “Selecting Jackson to be marshal was obvious because she took time away from her family and risked her life to help people she doesn’t know.”

The parade is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., followed by the Car Display at Drexel City Park from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Parade route is longer this year, starting at First and Main streets. The route runs past the school, circles around Frazier Estates and then back to the beginning point.

There will be no fireworks this year.

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