A nurse in the emergency room at Jacobi Hospital for only two years, Karen Lam barely had her feet wet when the pandemic arrived. But as the crisis set in, she faced a sink-or-swim moment — and she dove in headfirst.
Lam, 27, of Bayside, Queens, originally wasn’t sure what she wanted to pursue as a career. During her junior year at Stony Brook University, she volunteered as an EMT — and soon her passion for the medical field was born.
She attended nursing school at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn and, since graduating a few years ago, Jacobi has been her first and only job in the field.
“I’ve very much felt like a baby nurse navigating her way through the pandemic,” she stated.
Lam was hired as an ER nurse at Jacobi in January 2019. While she had a year under her belt before COVID-19 came, a lot of her success has come due to the help of nurse Kelly Cabrera, who was her preceptor.
Cabrera showed her what to do during a code, how to do an I.V., but really “it was trial by fire,” she said.
“You just get thrown in and you have to learn quickly because your patients are depending on you,” she explained. “It was a very steep learning curve, but I had people to lean on.”
However, when the coronavirus came it was like nothing she could have ever imagined. Death was everywhere, colleagues and family members got COVID-19 and there was a shortage on PPE.
“At some point, you have to become numb,” Lam said. “The time you take to cry is the time you can spend at another patient’s bed side. You can cry when you get home.”
For the first six months of the pandemic she lived with her parents, but rarely saw them as she had to isolate and eat her meals alone.
Lam told the Bronx Times she reached her breaking point in mid-April 2020. There was one day where she hadn’t eaten all day or used the bathroom.
After taking a bite of a sandwich for 30 seconds, Lam returned and found one of her patients was coding — going into cardiopulmonary arrest. She blamed herself.
“I just felt super guilty,” she recalled. “There were just so many sick patients and so few of us.”
Lam also discussed the recent Asian hate that has taken place throughout NYC and country. While hasn’t experienced any type of attack or racism, she is disgusted with what she reads about.
It upsets her when she hears people call it the “Chinese virus.”
“It’s heartbreaking to know that people look at me and see a threat,” she said. “When people are using language like that you’re putting a target on me.”–