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COVER STORY: Rescue Worker

Nurse Nicholas Olaverria treats patients fighting infectious diseases.

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Nicholas Olaverria (photo by Alex Rosa)

In only a few short weeks, the coronavirus, or COVID-19, has managed to turn the lives of practically everyone in the world upside down. While Houstonians who would have normally been celebrating at the rodeo are now homebound, first responders like nurse Nicholas Olaverria are still going to work every day—at great risk to their health, and for the benefit of ours.

“My husband and I have had to engage in scary talks about my work and the risks that it involves. He knows the days that I am working in the unit attending to coronavirus patients. The last thing I want to do is get anyone sick. I feel confident in myself and in the science, and know that I am taking every precaution that I can to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Olaverria, 25, graduated from nursing school in 2016. He recently married his husband, Joaquin Olaverria, shortly before the pandemic was declared. He has worked the last four years in the intensive-care unit at Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center. And while most people’s lives have slowed to a halt, nurses like Olaverria are busier than ever.

On a normal day, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Olaverria would treat patients that were fighting other diseases considered even more contagious than the virus. As an experienced healthcare professional, he and his co-workers continue to take the necessary precautions to prevent transmission.

I feel confident in myself and in the science, and know that I am taking every precaution that I can to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Nicholas Olaverria

But there is a growing concern that the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that hospitals need is running out. As the number of patients continues to increase, Olaverria is concerned that they may not have the beds or equipment necessary to treat patients or protect themselves.

“The hospital’s supply of gloves, gowns, and surgical masks is already becoming low. These are basic supplies, and as the need grows, they need to be replenished,” says Olaverria.

Staffing levels are another concern. Although the majority of healthcare workers are doing their best to help patients dealing with the virus, some are unwilling to work in the units designated for these patients. Their concerns are valid. Without the proper gear, they would be putting their own lives, and the lives of the people they care about, at risk.

“Making sure that you are not in large groups, or around people feeling sick or feverish, is very important. Every year, we stress the different ways you can avoid getting the flu, like washing hands for twenty seconds. These are the things you should already be doing. Social distancing is also a good tactic for avoiding getting sick,” says Olaverria.

COVID-19 is ten times more contagious than the flu—and also more deadly. Some experts fear the mortality rate could be as high as three percent, meaning that for every one hundred people infected, three will die. Those statistics are frightening enough, but that mortality rate could get even higher if hospitals are forced to begin making decisions about who will or will not receive treatment—a process already being used in hard-hit places like Italy.

The sooner that the rate of infection is slowed down, the sooner people who have been furloughed can return to work. Olaverria’s husband, who is also a Spin instructor, is currently unable to teach classes in person while gyms and all other nonessential businesses are closed.

Olaverria also wants to make sure people are getting accurate COVID-19 treatment information, especially those living with HIV/AIDS.

“I have had a few people ask me if there are certain HIV medications that can treat or kill COVID-19. I do not know that to be true, or if that has even been tested. It is super-important for us to filter out information that is incorrect. I want our community to know, especially those living with HIV and AIDS, that they aren’t protected just because they read [about an experiment] in some article that may not be accurate,” say Olaverria.

In the meantime, Olaverria will be working to help the city get through this crisis. And the best way that we can all help him is to stay home.

This article appears in the April 2020 issue of OutSmart magazine. 

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Ryan Leach

Ryan Leach is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. Follow him on Medium at www.medium.com/@ryan_leach.

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