By Alicia Renda
Editor’s note: The following is part one in a Long Island Advocate series about the Covid-19 pandemic’s effect on Hofstra University students and their families. In these often very personal stories, the student journalists approach the crisis through their own lenses, beginning with Alicia Renda, who interviewed her parents, Marion Renda, a hospital nutrition director, and Ronald Renda, a New York City firefighter.
This one word is how my mom, Marion Renda, RD, CRN, director of food and nutrition services at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre, described her life and work environment in the two months since the coronavirus first hit New York hard in early March.
The most trying part, she said, has been knowing that at the end of the day, she could bring the virus to her Levittown home and expose her three children, myself among them.
Mercy Medical Center had the first reported coronavirus case in Nassau County in early March, a Uniondale man who worked at the hospital, according to liherald.com. In two weeks, the number of patients who tested positive at Mercy rose from one to 90 people. In a hospital with 16 intensive care unit beds, it is easy to see how “overwhelmed” is the perfect word to describe the situation, not only for my mom but also for the hospital.
“There are not enough health care workers to the amount of acutely sick people,” my mom said. “Not enough [personal protective equipment], not enough knowledge, not enough time.”In this very personal interview, Alicia Renda interviews her mom, Marion Renda, the nutrition director at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre.
During the day, my mom’s main concern as the director of nutrition has been how to feed patients, including how to feed people without exposing staff to contamination and how to ensure there is a sufficient quantity of food to meet the growing demand. As the number of patients who require tube-feeding increased, the hospital has also had to match the demand for equipment, she added. Then, when she comes home, she faces a set of new concerns.
Just as things have had to change at work, things have had to change in our house. Step one upon her arrival home is to immediately change out of her work clothes. Next is to wash her hands and disinfect any items she may have brought home with her. Additionally, she must continue social distancing.
My mom is not alone in needing to enact these new home routines. “Many of my employees have fears about their own families and personal lives,” she said.
Safety procedures are vital.
A few weeks into the pandemic, my dad, Ronald Renda, a fire lieutenant in Brooklyn, was sent home from work and advised to self-quarantine. One of his co-workers had tested positive for the virus, which meant he had been exposed.
The question for my family immediately became, how do we self-quarantine him in our home? We started to think about who would need to share a bedroom in order to sequester him. How would we get food to him? How would we make sure we all stayed safe? And of course, the most pressing worry on our minds was, what would we do if he started showing symptoms?
In the end, we were fortunate. We quarantined him at a neighbor’s house, as our neighbor had been out of state for the month. And as each day of the two-week quarantine came and went, he remained asymptomatic.
But a rapidly increasing infection rate was causing a problem for the Fire Department of New York. As the number of firefighters who had contact with the virus grew, it became harder to staff firehouses. As of April 4, 496 firefighters had tested positive, and another 1,050 were symptomatic, but had no confirming test results, according to the FDNY.
This prompted new safety measures. The FDNY stopped swapping firefighters among houses and limited firefighters to working only 24-hour shifts to limit interaction between shifts. Originally, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention required two weeks of self-quarantine for any people with potential exposure, but this rule was changed to allow people to continue working if they were asymptomatic. While this was good in terms of employment and allowing the FDNY to continue to be able to operate, it increased the amount of fear and stress for firefighters and their families.
My dad also spoke out about another new concern for the FDNY. “Firefighters are responding to more calls that require CPR,” he said, “often as many as four to five times per 24-hour shift, and we are worried about the amount of death firefighters are interacting with on a daily basis and the effects that can have on their mental states.”
It is the same mental-health issue that doctors, nurses and nutritionists have had to cope with.
Both my parents have been trying to find silver linings. Decked out in PPE, they take walks at night; this has been a way for them to unwind from what seems like the never-ending anxiety of this pandemic. They have noticed rainbows decorating people’s windows, and they remind themselves that this crisis will end.
My mom has repeatedly expressed gratitude for the outpouring of generosity she has seen during this pandemic and how the public has reinforced her own desire to do her best to make a difference.
After spending hours keeping a close watch on the news, my dad offered a comparison to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 9/11, he noted, was the greatest tragedy to befall New York and, in many ways, the country, but it was also the greatest evacuation in our history, when so many lives were saved. In a similar way, many lives will be will be lost during the pandemic, but, he said, “I believe we will also see the greatest amount of lives saved.”