Prioritizing Mental Health
Nicholas Olaverria speaks out on his experience during the pandemic.
Nicholas Olaverria, 28, appeared on the cover of the April 2020 OutSmart issue, dressed in hospital scrubs. At the time, he was an intensive-care unit nurse at Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center. He was outspoken about the hospital’s lack of PPE resources and the dangers it presented to him and his colleagues—much to the chagrin of his bosses. He left the Hermann ICU later that summer to pursue other opportunities, burned out and disheartened by the nation’s pandemic response and his hospital system’s lack of regard for the front-line nurses who were saving lives.
“Thinking about the years 2020 and 2021 literally sends chills down my spine,” Olaverria admits. “When I interviewed with the magazine in April of 2020, we were seeing the initial influx of COVID patients in the ICU. I stayed working bedside in the COVID ICU until fall 2020. I received a bit of a professional whiplash after speaking with OutSmart and Houston’s local news networks, spreading the word that Memorial Hermann was not providing an adequate supply of PPE. I experienced a lot of frustration with hospital management, and I felt like [my concerns were being dismissed]. I was a bit discouraged and upset that a billion-dollar industry could not provide their workers with basic necessities. It was a bit embarrassing, but more so dangerous.”
After leaving the hospital, Olaverria made some personal changes. He started to focus more on his mental health, and began visiting a therapist to deal with the “trench” in his life that felt devastating. He continues to benefit from therapy, yoga practice, and his commitment to prioritize mental health above all.
“My choice to become a nurse and help people felt all of a sudden like a silly dream when I realized I was working in such a toxic hospital system. I made the decision to move into the biotechnology sector, and I now work completely from home as a clinical-data associate for oncology trials. The company I work for, Seagen, was just purchased by Pfizer. We are very excited about this acquisition because it will expand Pfizer’s research portfolio by adding targeted cancer-cell therapies to Pfizer’s wheelhouse.”
Olaverria notes that he was met with a variety of responses to being featured in OutSmart and other local media outlets. “It was interesting to see the hospital’s reaction to the article and my interview with a local news station. I received pointed conversations from hospital management about [my decision to speak out], but I was unbothered by this. I spoke with a handful of other ICU nurses at the time about creating a focus group to [explore the option of] going on strike, but unfortunately the grasp of the hospital system scared some of them and we did not proceed before I quit.
“My mom is also a nurse, and was very happy when she saw this article because she was experiencing the same headaches in San Antonio within her hospital units. I felt happy that this article was published because it solidified, at least within myself, that as a unit, nurses could really make a difference.”
When he isn’t working on cancer research, Olaverria is focused on spending time with his husband, Joaquin, and limiting his access to social media. In fact, he deleted most of his social media in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
“I deleted Instagram back when our country removed the protection for women to make decisions regarding their reproductive health. It was then that I decided a social-media cleanse was necessary to focus on my friends and family and really get back to Earth, in a way. I’m back on it now, though. I scroll randomly now, and take breaks as necessary. I try to FaceTime, call, and text my friends [rather than sending Instagram] messages, although I love to share funny Instagram videos.”
To that end, Olaverria has no social-media links to share, and he hopes to keep it that way as he continues his personal wellness journey.