As nurses in the same Florida hospital, Melvin Bonilla and his wife, Arlene, care for COVID-19 patients daily. They have to balance loving their profession and protecting their family.
As an Emergency Room nurse for 21 years, Melvin Bonilla had seen all kinds of situations to the point that nothing used to impressed him. But last month, for the first time, he felt fear.
Day after day, Melvin and his wife, Arlene, treated more and more patients that could or could not have COVID-19. The fear came from how fast the disease progressed in the body.
“It is the speed of how it evolves, the rapid deterioration. The patient deteriorates very quickly. It can be of any age, and it is really scary. I have seen people who have not had any type of preexisting condition and have died,” said the nurse.
Originally from Villalba, Puerto Rico, Melvin is the first nurse of a family of teachers and construction workers. Since he was very young, his mom had several health conditions and many medical needs. This inspired him to help others.
He started his practice at Menonita Hospital in Cayey, where he met his wife, Arlene Goitía, also a nurse. After they worked seven years in HIMA Hospital in Caguas, the couple and their three children decided to start a new life in Florida.
“The biggest change was the need to speak English. In that, almost everyone (Puerto Rican) fails. And it has to be credible, the doctor has to believe you. But you go on speaking your ‘pateao’ (sloppy) English and trying to make up words, but you have to create a bond with the doctor. Oh, and everything is electronic here. In Puerto Rico I did everything by hand, so I had to get used to it. But nursing is like running a bicycle, once you learn it you’ll always survive,” said Melvin.
Melvin and Arlene now work at Osceola Regional Medical Center and live in Kissimmee. Melvin works in the Emergency Room while Arlene is part of the Fast Track team, an emergency area that handles less severe cases so that people can go faster to their homes.
Melvin recalls that the first positive case of coronavirus that he treated was in early March when there were not so many safety measures in effect.
Arlene also treated a patient that had similar symptoms to the Flu. Then the patient came for a second time and he tested positive for COVID — 19.
“It is complicated because you don’t know if the symptoms are from the Flu or from COVID — 19. And you don’t know how to help the patient. Anyway, we will treat them the same. We want to help everybody. But it is very easy to confuse the symptoms of those two diseases,” said Arlene.
To this day, the couple is still not sure if they have already gotten the virus. Some weeks ago, both started to feel symptoms.
“My wife started with the symptoms and then me. And that can happen easily, because we’re working with patients. She was feverish, had body aches and I had no smell or taste. With the children in the house, we had to lock ourselves in a room. They could only walk until a certain place. For two weeks we were using masks and stayed locked in the room. The children had breakfast or lunch and after they got into their rooms we went out to eat. We cleaned everything and went back to the room,” explained Melvin.
“We went twice, at 6 a.m., to do the testing, but after spending hours in line they said they were out of kits. In our workplace they didn’t have the tests yet,” Melvin added.
The couple has to be extremely careful at their home, because of their three children, ages 13, 14 and 18.
“Sometimes our boy coughs and I quickly get scared, because he is asthmatic, he is the younger. I’m always alert. There are allergies of the season out there, but you cannot avoid being scared. I am also asthmatic and a nurse. Our routine has changed completely. In the garage, we take off our clothes and run naked to take a bath. We leave all shoes, clothes, lunchbox and always have a sanitizer there,” said Melvin.
What shocked Melvin and Arlene even more is that people are not educating themselves about Coronavirus. Both said that the way the Florida health system works, it’s normal that a primary doctor sends a patient to a hospital, even if it is something minimal. But these days you have to think about it more than twice to go to a health institution, because of the high risk of contagion.
“It’s a bad thing that people are not educating themselves, and through social media, they create and believe things that may not be true. That’s where the hysteria starts. So they’re coming to the emergency rooms with misinformation and they say that health workers are bad because they don’t want to help them. And it’s not like that. Everything has a protocol. It doesn’t mean they have COVID-19 because they have a fever. And others come and say, ‘I don’t have a fever, and I don’t have those symptoms.’ They look like a normal patient. So we put them in a normal room and then they say, ‘I’ve just arrived from a cruise ship.’ It’s really difficult,“ said Melvin.