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Caring for COVID-19 Patients: 'As Stressed and Fearful as I've Been, This is Why I Became a Nurse'

People logo People 4/23/2020 Jeff Truesdell
a person sitting in front of a door: Nurse Cedar Wang rediscovers her resilience as her team battles a pandemic © Jeff Rhode/Holy Name Medical Center Nurse Cedar Wang rediscovers her resilience as her team battles a pandemic

As COVID-19 began to assert itself with positive tests for patient infections and a spike in people admitted to the ICU at the New Jersey hospital where she works, nurse Cedar Wang had a decision to make.

“She came home one day and she said, ‘My colleagues are saying they’re sleeping apart from their spouse in the basement,'” recalls Peter Wang, 47, her husband and father of their three kids who are self-isolating with the couple at their home in New Milford. “And we looked at each other. We said, ‘we’re not doing that.'”

But putting real fears aside does not mean Cedar, 45, isn’t wary and taking precautions, she says in this week’s issue of PEOPLE.

On her 15-minute drive home from Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck after all-hands-on-deck workdays that stretch to 10 or 11 hours, “sometimes I’ll cry because I can’t believe this is really happening,” she says.

Then, she’ll race inside to shed her street clothes and jump into the shower to wash her hair and scrub herself clean before she interacts with any others in the household. Yet no matter how much she scrubs, she can’t erase the anxiety that she might still pass the virus to those she loves.

“Should I kiss my child goodnight, or just kinda blow the kiss?” she says. “Some days I decide, ‘Okay, it’s safe to give a peck on the cheek.’ Other nights I just blow a kiss. It really makes no logical sense.”

a group of people posing for the camera: Courtesy Cedar Wang Cedar Wang and, clockwise from left, husband Peter, son Matthew, daughter Kaylyn and son Mitchell © Provided by People Courtesy Cedar Wang Cedar Wang and, clockwise from left, husband Peter, son Matthew, daughter Kaylyn and son Mitchell

Her family is feeling the pandemic in other ways. Peter, a pastor, is working from a home but joins in the weekly broadcast from his church of worship services to quarantined parishioners. Son Mitchell, 13, is a middle-school student, but daughter Kaylyn, 17, is a senior whose prom has been canceled and her graduation put on hold; son Matthew, 20, is finishing up college courses from home.

“I don’t share much with them,” Cedar says. “I don’t want them to live this horror.”

But familial bonds also have been forged and strengthened on her job — and affirmed her commitment to a career as a nurse that she began in 1996.

“There have been many days when I’ve gone home and said to my husband, ‘Today was worse than yesterday, and tomorrow will probably be worse than today,'” she says. “It’s just that overwhelming. I’ve never had that. That’s a feeling that’s really hard to get out from under.”

“During difficult situations I turn to God. We’re a Catholic hospital. I’m not personally Catholic, but I am still a religious person,” she says. A daily phone conference with administrators at the hospital begins with prayer, and two times during the day another inspirational quote or Bible verse is broadcast over the hospital’s public address system. “These little encouragements that we have, it just helps so much.”

“I do feel like there is something to be learned from this,” she says. “It’s hard, but as I go through all these cycles of emotions, I am becoming more resilient. I’m growing stronger, and I’m not crumbling.”

“People have asked, do you regret becoming a nurse? Absolutely not,” says Cedar. “As stressed and fearful as I’ve been, I like to think I’m growing stronger and more capable at what I’m called to do. This is why I became a nurse.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments.

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