Leaving Three Toddlers Behind, Marcie Gest Travels to the East Coast to Care for Coronavirus Patients

Marcie Gest Edited

Compelled to relieve nurses on the front line, Chamberlain alumna Marcie Gest, BSN, RN, traveled from her Arizona home to New Jersey, leaving her husband to tend to their three young children. Soon after arriving last week, Marcie realized her recent switch from hospital rotations to hospice would complement the skill set needed to care for terminal COVID-positive patients.  

“I saw so many people in need and knew this was my calling. I wanted to be there for the patients and for the fellow nurses because I knew this was taking a toll on them. I felt it was my duty to do whatever I could before a patient died.”

Growing up in the foster-care system, Marcie learned to appreciate those who demonstrated compassion and knew nursing was the way to become one of those she so admired. “They really make a difference in people’s lives – they’re like the foundation of medicine.”

Hear Marcie’s story on ABC 15 Arizona TV News.

Community Mission to India

Marcie got her first real glimpse into helping others during her mission trip to India while enrolled in Chamberlain’s RN to BSN program. “It was the most amazing experience of my life; it gives me chills just thinking about it.” She and her student group assisted those who had contracted leprosy and subsequently been shunned from others in their country. Students collected general supplies such as glasses, medication, toiletries and coloring books, and even cooked meals for them. “They were so incredibly appreciative of everything – even a toothbrush. You could feel the difference you were making right away because we treated them like human beings and let them know that their lives were worth something. They felt loved and cared about; it was touching.”

Now Marcie is paying it forward with her hospice patients in Arizona. “I want patients to be able to die with dignity.” She joined the hospice setting in January and was soon offered a management position but turned it down. “I don’t want to be so distant from patients. Patient contact is what I love most about nursing.”

Two weeks ago, Marcie decided to help those in the COVID hot zone and last week she moved on it. Assigned to a small community hospital, Marcie said her colleagues have been more than cordial. She is one of about 75 caregivers, of which 10-12 have traveled in from other states. “I sing praise to this hospital,” she said, complimenting the utilization of all nursing staff to assist with the outbreak.

Caring for Her Own Patients

After half a day of shadowing and assisting another nurse, Marcie began seeing her own patients. “You hear of a lot of sick people in New York City and it’s not like that here so I thought maybe New Jersey wouldn’t be hit that hard” and then in a matter of two days, she said there were twice as many patients who had tested positive for coronavirus. Marcie started caring for patients who were 80+ years old and had been hospitalized for at least 10 days, two of whom were dire and presented with severe respiratory symptoms. “We worked so hard to get them as much oxygen as we could.”

Knowing the end was near for one patient who suffered from memory loss, Marcie spoke with the family members and they decided to say their goodbyes via video conference. “It’s so sad and heartbreaking to hear them say, ‘you’re my mom and I love you’.”

Another one of Marcie’s patients was admitted to palliative care and only received comfort measures such as a bed bath. “It was an amazing and peaceful end-of-life experience when she passed.”

After one shift, Marcie heard about another patient’s son requesting a video conference with his mom who was nearing the end. But unfortunately, the nurse assigned to that patient didn’t comply. So, Marcie stepped in, knowing the patient was awake and alert enough for the call. “I do not have COVID. I have all the time in the world but who knows how much time this woman had left. This son wanted to say goodbye to his mother. We became nurses to help and we can’t turn our backs… not now.”

Adhering to Patient Rights

Marcie realizes that with every patient, she increases her exposure levels to this unforgiving virus but her mindset remains on patient care. “If I’m exposed 10 times a day, does it really matter? We can’t change the way we care for patients just because they have this virus.”

She compared the current healthcare atmosphere to that of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and said, “No one wanted to touch or care for the patients then either. Even the public was afraid. But every patient has rights. And when patients are dying, the little things you do can make a big difference. It’s hard for me to treat someone differently because of why they are admitted.”

Marcie remembers watching the news about the East Coast and feeling a pull inside of her. “I kept feeling like I needed to go and help,” which her husband fully supported. “He could see that I wasn’t going to let this go and he knew how much it would mean for me to be there.”

Kid Message: Sense of Community and Outreach

For her 5-year-old son, 2-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter, Marcie hopes her healthcare pledge to New Jersey patients will demonstrate the importance of putting others’ wellbeing before their own. “I have so much to offer people who are potentially dying even if I can only make a small impact because that could mean the world to one person. In eight weeks, my kids will get their mom back but in eight weeks, several people won’t have their moms. We need to be dutiful to our community and to others.”

While gone, Marcie feared missing one of her daughter’s milestones – her first steps. But as luck would have it, during a video conference with the family one night, Marcie’s daughter saw her mom on the screen and took those first few wobbly moves. Describing the emotional happiness of the moment, Marcie said, “She walked for me. She didn’t want me to miss it.”

Appreciative and Thankful  

We appreciate your commitment to the continued well-being of our Chamberlain community and support during this unprecedented time. Please visit the Chamberlain University website for the latest updates regarding COVID-19.

We thank and honor all healthcare workers through our Care for Caregivers website as well as the Chamberlain Wall of Gratitude and thank-you message.  

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