I am a Kenyan nurse dealing with Covid-19 in the US

Milka Isinta, 44, is a former KNH nurse who migrated to America. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Milka Isinta, 44, is a former KNH nurse who migrated to America.
  • It was all bliss at her new workplace until the Coronavirus happened.
  • She tells Anne Ndung’u how she is coping

“I am glad that I decided to migrate to the United States when I did. I am at a good place in my life now and it's worth it. I like that the opportunities for children to advance their education are in plenty.

In 1999, soon after my graduation as a nurse, I got employed at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH). I was posted to work in the Accident and Emergency department, where I worked for 19 years before relocating to Virginia USA in 2018.

It was back in 2011 when I thought about relocating. While visiting a family member in Georgia, USA, I experienced firsthand the opportunity for nurses in the country. I was impressed by the constant care patients got, when a family member fell ill.

I also noted then that nurses were very well trusted. Impressed, I decided to migrate to the USA and practice nursing since I wanted to understand what made the nurses in the USA different, their challenges, and of course, earn the high pay.

On January 19th, 2018, I migrated to the US after successfully applying for a job there. It was a tough time starting life in a new country but I trusted God to see me through. I commenced my clinical and cultural transition program at Avant Offices in Orlando, Florida. My transition was smooth and I have loved my job.

That's until March of this year when the coronavirus became a reality. It hadn't dawned on me on the disease severity until my son spring break was extended and schools in our state were closed.

In March this year, we got the first batch of patients. I work for a hospital in Virginia that I was matched with by Avant Healthcare Professionals, and my first COVID-19 patient was a nurse from one of the health center's around and she, unfortunately, passed away. It was scary trying to give the best care I could to a colleague and at the same time trying to ensure that I didn't get infected.

Taking care of patients with the COVID 19 virus has taken a toll on me. The fevers are the worst, followed by diarrhea in some cases and hacking coughs.

Our hospital management has provided all the personal protective equipment we require. Apart from wearing PPE, sanitising and social distancing, when getting from work, I take off all my clothes at the door, rush to take a shower before taking my breakfast, and going to bed. I disinfect my scrubs and wash them separately from other clothes.

I recently took care of a colleague working in our COVID unit and the disease came home. It's sad knowing that she got infected as a result of taking care of patients, despite having been in full PPE. I still worry if I will get infected and worse infect my son. It's an emotional roller coaster.

One of my colleagues lost his mother too to COVID and I can't imagine what goes through his mind. It's an unending nightmare. The pandemic poses a great challenge to healthcare in the world today. It is real and quite threatening especially with no cure or vaccine in sight. April and early May were our worst months in Corona numbers. We still have patients coming but the symptoms are not as severe as they were earlier. I hope that when all this is done, we will make the right choices and invest in what matters most.

Earlier in my life, I wanted to be a journalist. However, this wish did not materialise but I was fortunate to get a chance of joining the Kenya Medical Training College (Nairobi) in 1995, to pursue a diploma in Registered Community Health Nursing.

Joining KNH was a blessing, and the experience I gained helped me get my current job. There is a fantastic team of health workers at the Kenyatta National Hospital whom if facilitated well can do an amazing job for our country.

I started looking for greener pastures in 2012, but it's not until 2015, that I got a breakthrough. I received an email from Avant healthcare professional's recruitment agency in the USA asking me if I was still interested in migrating.

I did an online entrance exam and passed. The agency sent me reading materials in preparation for the NCLEX-RN exam. This is a licensing exam that all registered nurses working in the USA had to pass. It was close to six months of reading and weekly exams. The agency booked and fully paid for my trip to Mumbai, India where I did my final exams and passed.

In January 2017, the agency commenced the process of filling for my employment green card.

As I waited for my visa appointment, the agency organised hospital interviews via skype in three different hospitals. I was accepted by the three but opted for the hospital in Virginia which I felt would help me navigate the US health system better. It was a smaller hospital in bed capacity compared to KNH though equally busy.

I then went through a detailed transition period with the agency preparing for my credit card, driving license, social security number, and green card. When I arrived in Virginia, the toughest things were in learning the American culture, work ethic, and the health system, which is very different from what we have back home. It's also the time one has hands-on experience with the patients and new colleagues.

However, it was bearable. My son joined me in April 2018. He joined high school and graduated last year in April. It was one of my happiest moments in life and I was happy to have fellow Avant nurses who are now my family and friends celebrate with us. I pursued an online RN (Registered Nurse) to BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) programme at the Grand Canyon University which I completed in January this year.

I am now a full hospital staff. That said, I miss home. One cannot replace the warmth of a familiar social life, true friendships, great food, and fantastic weather.”

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