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New Mexico nurse tends to her own father as he battles COVID-19 in ICU: 'He's our anchor'

New Mexico nurse tends to her own father as he battles
COVID-19 in ICU: 'He's our anchor' 1
CLOSENew Mexico nurse tends to her own father as he battles
COVID-19 in ICU: 'He's our anchor' 2

Doctors and nurses working in hospitals across the country are sharing the realities of COVID-19. USA TODAY

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Some family members drop to their knees on the lawn outside of Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico, while others stand before a window into the intensive care unit.

About 25 people in all, spread out, say prayers in English and Spanish, asking God to use His power to heal their father, Jose Garcia.

The 68-year-old farmworker, intubated and sedated, lie inside the hospital, separated from most of his family since a COVID-19 diagnosis last month.

Since Jose was admitted on Nov. 6, only one family member has been able to have physical contact with him – his daughter Carolina Garcia, the fourth oldest of his nine children. She has been a nurse at Memorial Medical Center for 12 years.

Carolina talks to Jose every day and says she knows he can hear her voice, even if he is sedated. She’s seen tears fall from his eyes as she reassures him that the family is outside, as physically close to him as they can be.

Outside, Jose’s wife of 47 years, Genoveva Garcia, is bundled up in several blankets. Her hands are pressed to the glass looking at her husband lie motionless.

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Connie Dominguez, Jose’s second oldest child, comforts her mom. She says her father’s diagnosis has brought the large family together.

“Not having my dad has been the hardest thing. He’s our anchor,” Connie said.

Through Carolina, they have a conduit inside. Carolina is not in the nursing unit assigned to care for her father, but still dresses in personal protective equipment to visit him daily.

“It’s a blessing to have her there,” Connie said. “My mom thanks her every day.”

Hair cuts and cologne

Jose has worked for Cervantes Enterprises Inc. since he was 17 years old and he’s still employed for the chile processing enterprise more than 40 years later.

Carolina said her father has always been a very clean man who showers every morning, brushes his hair and puts on cologne. 

Genoveva gave Carolina her father’s Polo cologne to put on him while he’s in the hospital. Carolina also trims his hair.

“[It] gives me happiness if I do the things that he would still be doing at home,” Carolina said.

Carolina’s eyes water as she talks about seeing her father like this.

“I’m used to the 12 years that I’ve been a nurse that patients come in, and they’re sick, we treat them, we give them what we have, and they get better, and they go home,” Carolina said. “With COVID, it’s not that way.”

The sickest patients are intubated, meaning ventilators help control their breathing. Hospital officials in New Mexico say fewer patients are having to be intubated as treatment for the SARS CoV-2 coronavirus improves.

But 60 percent of patients now intubated don’t survive, according to Dr. David Scrase, the state’s health and human services secretary, who provided the statistic Monday during a state press conference.

For the first few days after Jose was intubated on Nov. 13, Carolina said she spent a lot of time staring at the monitors in his room, knowing all too well what each statistic meant. 

She no longer does this after encouragement from her fellow nurses to go home and take care of herself and her two children because that’s what her dad would want.

“I saw my dad go through this from being home to being (in the hospital), going to the ICU, seeing my dad get intubated,” Carolina said. “I know my dad was really scared. When I (told) him what the doctor said about intubation …. He said in Spanish, he told me: ‘Hay que hacer la lucha’ meaning let’s go on with the fight.”

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Family asks for prayers

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the majority of the Garcia family has tested positive for COVID-19. Carolina had the virus in September. As a healthcare professional, she stepped up to be the caretaker for her large family, dropping off medication and oxygen and taking people’s temperatures.

“I felt like I was doing home health visits with my family to make sure that they had what they needed,” Carolina said.

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New Mexico has seen large spikes of COVID-19 since October. To combat the rise, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has enacted some of the most stringent restrictions in the country. In most of the state, big box stores can have only up to 75 people inside at a time and restaurants are limited to outdoor dining, at 25 percent capacity.

The state also does not permit groups of five or more people to gather. Still, a large crowd of Jose’s family meets on the hospital lawn, awaiting word from Carolina.

The family is asking the community to pray for Jose.

Late Sunday evening, Genoveva and Connie were the only family members who remained outside as the sun began to set. Connie pulled her car around for her mom so they could escape the cold for a bit. They were parked across the street, but in view of Jose’s hospital room.

Inside, they watched Carolina care for Jose as the sun set behind the hospital. By 6 p.m., the blinds were drawn. Family members will be back at 9 a.m. when nurses inside again raise the blinds allowing the Garcia family to see their loved one and do what they can to let Jose know they are watching.

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Veronica Martinez and Algernon D’Ammassa contributed to this reporting.

Follow Miranda Cyr on Twitter: @mirandabcyr

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