Interview with McLaren nurse, Leah Gatica: 'The kindest thing you can do is stay home.'

FLINT, Michigan—As the COVID-19 pandemic makes its way through Michigan at an alarming rate, healthcare workers are having to work longer hours and isolate themselves from their families. According to the Michigan state government, Genesee county now has the fifth-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state.


Leah Gatica, a registered nurse working at McLaren Hospital Flint spoke to Flintside about her experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, PPE shortages, and how her daily routine has been impacted by the pandemic.
Watch our interview with Gatica below:


Though nurses usually work two to four 12-hour shifts in a row, Gatica says workdays have started to feel longer as hospitals brace themselves for what’s to come. “ … the stretches have definitely become a little bit longer just in the sense that the emotional and mental strain that it’s been putting on the workers.” Gatica said. “It’s definitely starting to take its toll even though we’re still kind of in the beginning of what looks like it could be a while longer …”


Gatica says she felt nervous to go into work for the first time in years due to the uncertainty COVID-19’s presence brought. “I’ve been on the workforce for almost seven years now, it was very rare that I would be going to work and ever feel any sort of trepidation or nervous anticipation … with this [COVID-19], it’s so unknown to us, it’s so foreign that going in for my first shift coming back … it was very nerve-wracking. I haven’t felt that way since a first-year nurse.” said Gatica.


Like everyone else, she is practicing social distancing. For her though, the fear is more about infecting others than it is about getting infected. Gatica says it’s been weeks since she’s been in physical contact with her family. According to her, some of her co-workers have chosen to sleep in their garages or inside campers in their backyards to avoid infecting those inside their homes.


Though the hospital she works at hasn’t been overwhelmed yet, Gatica fears the fact that soon the situation will worsen, and hospitals in Flint will start seeing the same staffing and supply shortages hospitals in the Detroit Metro area are already experiencing.


Gatica thinks this situation, while tenuous, is bringing out the good in people. She says she’s received little gifts on her doorsteps and support from her friends and family online.


While the gifts and kind words are greatly appreciated, Gatica says, “the kindest thing you can do is stay home...for us it’s frustrating when we’re out and we are seeing these people who are putting themselves and people around them in harm's way. Especially because we know that the likelihood is that they’re the ones we’re gonna be seeing in the hospital and the ones we’re gonna be treating and all we want to do is keep you safe."


Gatica suggests people follow the CDC’s guidelines for staying protected from COVID-19. This includes making sure to wash one’s hands often, staying home if sick, and maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from anyone else at all times.

Read more articles by Santiago Ochoa.

Santiago Ochoa is a freelance reporter looking to write about all things Flint. He especially enjoys investigative reporting and human-interest stories. A communications student at UM-Flint, Santiago currently serves as The Michigan Times' (the university's student-run newspaper) Editor-in-Chief. He has worked with publications and organizations like The New York Times and the Interamerican Press Association in the past. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @santi8a98 and can send any tips or comments to [email protected] Santiago is the project editor for Brownell-Holmes' On The Ground community reporting series.
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