November 26, 2020

Ephesus nurse featured for frontline work in NYC

(Roanoke, AL) — The Randolph Leader is featuring articles on three registered nurses that are originally from Randolph County and still have family there.

These three nurses volunteered to go work on the frontline in the hot spots of New York and New Jersey in hospitals that were in dire need of help and overrun with patients testing positive for the coronavirus.

The Leader spoke to each one individually about what it is like to serve on the frontline.

One of those featured is a current resident of Heard County — Emilee Parmer Barron.

Family, Education and a Goal in Life

Emilee is originally from Woodland and now lives with her husband Zach in Ephesus. She is the daughter of Mark and Elaine Parmer and has one brother, Jared.

She is a graduate of Woodland High School. She received her associate degree in nursing from Southern Union in Opelika and her bachelor’s degree from University of West Georgia.

Her first nursing job was in the emergency room at Higgins General Hospital (now Tanner) in Bremen and she has been employed with them for about seven years.

Emilee moved to Atlanta and transferred to Emory Hospital in Midtown Atlanta where she worked in the intensive care unit, but still worked part time in Bremen.

She later left Emory and went to the intensive care unit at the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Newnan while still working in the ER in Bremen.

She moved back home after a year and was in the process of transferring to Tanner East Alabama in Wedowee, when the virus hit. She went to work at the plastic surgery center in Carrollton.

She worked there only a week or so when the virus blew up and the office was shutdown; she in turn was furloughed.

She said she had no alternative but to go back to the emergency room, but with the numbers being so low, her hours were being cut.

At the end of March, with no job, Emilee said she heard from a friend that nurses were needed really bad in New York and New Jersey at that time. She said it had always been a goal of hers to travel and do some type of mission work.

She knew going to New York was the perfect opportunity to experience her goal. She applied for a position and was contacted on April 13 that she had been accepted.

Reaction by Her Family

After being accepted to go to New York, Emilee said her husband was not really happy. “He knew I was going to be gone for an extended period of time, and there was a real possibility I could get sick,” Emilee said.

Her husband, Zack, said, “I can’t stop you from doing this, but I will stand beside you and support you through this whole thing. If that’s where you are supposed to be, then I’ll be right here at home rooting you on.”

He said the hardest thing was being worried every day. “We weren’t texting or talking throughout the day like we had done before.”

He went on to say his wife would send him a text early in the morning, but it would be late at night when I heard from her again.

“I just worried how her day was going and knowing I couldn’t be with her. Sometimes in the evening, she would text and tell me she just couldn’t talk because of the day she had and I understood that.”

He said there were times it crossed his mind that his wife might not come back home, but he was confident she was the one for the job she was doing and she was sent there for a reason.

Emilee said her parents were very supportive, but her mom was really upset. “She cried all the time, even if you just mentioned it. She didn’t even want me to talk about the possibility before I even got accepted to go. She said don’t even talk about it … don’t even mention it.”

Even though her parents were emotional about the decision she had made and the dangers she would face, they supported her.

“My parents have always supported me in anything I felt like I needed to do.”

Moving to the Frontline

After receiving her travel allowance, she said goodbye to her family and friends. She said, “I knew what the danger was in this assignment, and I knew too that I might not come back home. It’s scary but I couldn’t be selfish about it.”

She boarded a flight from Atlanta to New York City for a 24-day assignment, 24 days in a row without a full day off. “I had the option to extend my stay til July 4, but numbers began to drop so I would have been sent home early.”

She said when she arrived at the hospital she introduced herself, and a lot of people made the comment to her, “‘You’re not from here are you?’ In fact, that happened every day when I walked into a treatment room.”

Emilee said she carried her Southern accent and charm to New York City. When she first began her work there, she said there were so many patients that it was on another level than what she had ever experienced – with all testing positive for the virus. “I just can’t guess how many patients we saw each day.”

When Emilee first got to the hospital in Harlem, a Level 1 trauma center, not only was the emergency room overloaded with patients, over half of the nursing staff had already gotten sick. Emilee was on duty 13 to 14 hours a day for 24 straight days.

What was it like when she ended her shift and headed back to her hotel?

“It was a very humbling experience … every day at shift change, fire departments, neighborhood residents and many others were standing on the sidewalks and balconies of their apartments cheering for us. When you have a really tough day and you walk out and see support like that, you just can’t help but breakdown. On the bus ride back to the hotel each day, we were either crying or rejoicing over the victories of the day.”

Emilee went on to say that when she got back to the hotel it would take about an hour to decontaminate.

“I had to make sure I wasn’t going to contaminate anything else in my room after my shower. There were many nights I would text my parents and my husband and tell them, I just can’t talk tonight. Some night, I had so much on my heart I didn’t want to communicate with anyone; I just wanted to sit in silence just me and God and talk to him.”

A Special Patient that Touched Me

Out of all the patients Emilee treated, she says there was one special patient who touched her in a special way and she would never forget her.

“There was this one patient, a young lady, that came into the emergency room, and she had lost her husband to the virus the week before she came in,” said Emilee.

“She was a healthy, young adult, very proactive, very involved in her community and her job. She had tested negative for the virus, but her husband had gotten sick, went to the hospital and later died … She never got to see him or say goodbye to him. She was really having a hard time emotionally getting over all of it.”

The lady came in just wanting to talk to someone and find some kind of therapy or counseling.

“I know this isn’t much when you are dealing with COVID, but she really touched me because she was so emotionally distraught. When we had finished talking with her and examining her, I looked at her and ask if I could give her a hug. You would have thought she had just gotten a million dollars.”

Emilee said the lady cried the whole time she was there and she couldn’t believe someone cared that much.

“With all the social distancing, that touch just meant so much to her.”

The patient told Emilee that since her husband was gone, she had nobody else and that the hug had made her day.

“Just something as simple as that really made an impact on me, and I’ll never forget it. I wasn’t doing anything for her medically, it was just being a friend … That’s part of nursing too, not just the procedures and the medication.”

Emilee said due to regulations, she couldn’t get the lady’s name to stay in touch with her, but she did pray with her. “I told her I would continue to pray for every day because I know it is going to be a long journey for you and it’s going to be hard for you.”

To this day Emilee said she continues to pray for the troubled but special lady.

Tragedy with Triumph

Along with the feel good stories from her experience, there are many stories she wishes had turned out differently.

“Harlem is an area of New York that has many different nationalities living there, and sometimes it is very difficult to break the language barrier. When someone came in for examinations or treatment, we would have to get at least two phones to get a translator to help us understand what the patient is saying.”

She said there are a large number of Chinese-speaking people and many other languages too.

“It was very stressful for all of us. As you see in the picture of the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) we wear, we have to wear it all day, and it is not the most comfortable. You have the stress of that, plus not being able to communicate with patients.”

She said when you finish with one patient and get ready to go in another patient’s room; you have to double up gowns, gloves and masks.

“When you are double dressing, carrying phones in and trying to deal with a patient that doesn’t speak English, it makes it so much harder and it’s really stressful.”

She said one patient came in, couldn’t speak English but wanted someone to contact his family because he was there alone.

“It’s very frustrating that I couldn’t talk with him, and even the translator was having problems. We didn’t know what was wrong with him, and he couldn’t tell us. The nurses and doctors treating those type of patients are their lifelines. We are the go-betweens because the patients can’t leave the rooms and risk getting anyone else infected.”

Another problem Emilee talked about is the lack of resources. “When you are used to working each day with the appropriate machines and supplies, and then all of a sudden, you don’t have enough, that is really tough.”

Having to choose which patient gets what kind of machine is tough. “I never, ever thought I would have to make decisions like that in my career, and I hope I never have to do it again.”

She said another difficult task is having to contact families to inform them their loved one had passed away.

“The family members didn’t get to spend the patient’s last hours with them and comfort them, and it was extremely difficult, even for me. The saddest part of all this virus is that people not getting to say goodbye to their loved ones is a new norm.”

She said the nurses struggle with these type situations, but it is now becoming a daily thing.

Winding Down

Emilee returned home a few weeks ago, and when contacted about an interview, she said she was taking some time off and needed some downtime. When she was interviewed this past Sunday, Emilee and husband were in Panama City on vacation.

The couple celebrated their first wedding anniversary on May 25.

“I got home just in time to celebrate my anniversary.”

When asked if she would go back and do it all again, she said,” In a heartbeat, absolutely! I have been blessed with skills and knowledge, and I see no reason to sit down and watch people get worse and die when I could have an impact and do something about it. If I can help, I am going to help.”

She said when you are called to be a nurse, you have to help everybody… not just your patient, but it could be their family or it could even be your coworker. When she returns home, she plans to relax and take it easy til her furlough is up at the clinic in Carrollton.

“If there is another wave and I’m needed, I’ll be booking a flight and going back.”

Her husband said he would be willing to let his wife go back, but hopefully not any time soon. Emilee said in closing that in seven years as a nurse, she had never been appreciated the way she was there.

“Some patients here come in, and they know that you have to help them, and it’s something you have to do. Now everybody is so appreciative, and it makes you feel like you’re doing what you are supposed to do and doing good at it.”

(Written by Mike McCormick. Photos/article courtesy of

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