Brooklyn nurse talks about working through the pandemic and running for essential workers, COVID patients in the next race

Myra Aguilar always knew she wanted to do something related to health. Born and raised in Brooklyn by Mexican immigrant parents, Aguilar initially found herself doing medical research as a career.

“I wanted to have more person-to-person contact and help other people. In the lab, he wasn’t really interacting with other people,” Aguilar said. “I wanted to pursue nursing as a way to help others.”

Aguilar took the leap and went to nursing school. He found it challenging because no two patients are the same and you end up working with many different personalities with your patients and colleagues alike.

“It was challenging to work with the different personalities of patients and colleagues, and to work with other nurses, managers and patients. Since they have different conditions, there is a different level of patience to treat those patients,” Aguilar said. “There are elderly patients who confuse them with dementia, and those who are hospitalized for substance use and are not aware of what they are doing. You have a certain level of patience because it’s a challenging situation.”

Aguilar has been working with NYU Langone’s Brooklyn campus for the past ten years, with the last few years working as a nurse practitioner. Things were going well until COVID-19 started to make its way into our everyday lives.

Before the coronavirus hit the states, I had been listening to podcasts from Italian doctors detailing what COVID-19 was doing to Italy. However, Aguilar did not realize how bad it could be.

“I didn’t expect it to be this bad. I heard about it, but I still didn’t expect it to be that bad,” Aguilar said. “Looking at the number of deaths, in 10 years in the field, I’ve never seen so many people die in a period of time.”

Aguilar went straight to the front lines as an ICU nurse, often working through the night to help complete whatever help was needed. Most of the time, the team was overwhelmed and understaffed, but she worked tirelessly to make sure everyone was taken care of in the best possible way.

“In general, we were not prepared. Although we were understaffed, whatever illness you have, it all boils down to the basics. Your airways, you have a pulse, it always comes down to that,” Aguilar said. “In many of those COVID cases, patients have respiratory or cardiac arrest, they are similar modes and treatments. Eventually, we learned more about the disease. At NYU, we are trying to find what works for these COVID patients.”

Aguilar says that while the pandemic isn’t necessarily what many people signed up for in health care, it’s something they’ve escalated and handled with determination and care.

“I think it basically brought out a lot of why we’re in medicine,” Aguilar said. “It was a time when a lot of people in the medical field realized that even though this is not something I want or it’s not what I signed up for, but this is what it entails. We work on communicable diseases, we know what to do to help others. It was our time to contribute.”

On May 21, Aguilar will run the RBC Brooklyn Half with the New York Road Runners, which is one of Aguilar’s favorite races as it passes through many Brooklyn neighborhoods. Aguilar used to run before the COVID-19 pandemic for her own health and exercise, but found that running helped her get out of severe bouts of anxiety.

“Many years ago, after 9/11, I developed anxiety and agoraphobia. Running was something I learned and it helped me get out of it,” Aguilar said. “Since then I ran around my neighborhood. It wasn’t until I became a nurse that I met other people who were going to race, so I signed up and joined Road Runners.”

For this half marathon, Aguilar is running on behalf of his fellow essential workers, as well as those who have survived COVID-19 and those who have not.

“In 2020, I had COVID and that year, I was short of breath until the end of the year. I was diagnosed with mild asthma, I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs at work,” Aguilar said. “Little by little I did it again, shortness of breath and fatigue improved. This year is the first year that I went back and signed up for races, so I decided to also run for my colleagues and people with COVID who died and were survivors.”

With this in mind, Aguilar is glad to see how New York is faring amid the pandemic.

“I am happy with where we are today regarding COVID,” Aguilar said. “The combination of vaccinated people and this weaker strain has helped. We are not seeing a major increase in hospitals or intensive care in hospitals. It’s a relief for us health workers to see that. I think what we’re doing is working.”

Myra Aguilar (right) and a fellow runner after a New York Road Runners racePhoto courtesy of Myra Aguilar

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