After working as a nurse in an emergency room for almost five years, Devon Oechsle, 30, told TODAY Parents she has seen the worst days of people's lives and a lot of crazy things, but she has never seen anything like the current coronavirus outbreak. She and her co-workers, she said, are facing situations both at work and at home that they never imagined.
"Nobody signed up for this," she said. "No nursing program or medical school prepares us for a pandemic."
This week, Oechsle and her husband, Jason — himself a firefighter and medic for the City of Bryan, Texas — had to have what Oechsle described as "a very hard conversation" to send their 3-year-old daughter, Eliana, to a friend's house nearby to stay for the foreseeable future, as both of them are exposed to the coronavirus regularly now. The Oechsles do not know when Eliana will be able to return home safely.
Oechsle wrote a Facebook post about the decision featuring a photo of her tear-stained face that has since gone viral, with over 147,000 likes and 76,000 comments.
"This is the face of someone who feels punished for trying to be the 'good guy,'" Oechsle wrote. "My job as an ER nurse is just that: my job. I don't ever feel like it's anything crazy or special or deserving of accolades. Jason feels the same way as a firefighter/medic.
"But, our jobs are important right now, and unlike many, we are still required to work. And that work carries a high risk of being infected, or spreading this damn virus," she wrote.
The Oechsles had begun to think about what they would have to do with Eliana a few weeks ago, when their area still had relatively few cases. But now, Oechsle said, the cases grow "exponentially, every day," and after she was notified that she had been in contact with patients who had tested positive for COVID-19, she knew it was time to make the decision to separate Eliana from them for her own safety.
"We are like poison to her right now," Oechsle said. "We have been exposed, and we don't want her to get it."
Fortunately, Oechsle's friend Anita Graziano, who knows Eliana well, had already texted her unsolicited weeks before telling Oechsle that when and if the time came, her home was ready to host Eliana. When Oechsle reached out, her friend told her to bring Eliana over that night without hesitation.
Eliana is too young to understand time, Oechsle noted, so when her parents explained to her that she would be going to sleep at "Miss Nita's" for a while, they did not try to be specific. They just let her know they would be working, but they would see and talk to her a lot.
Now, both Oechsle and her husband FaceTime Eliana several times a day, and Eliana is happy. However, Oechsle said in a recent FaceTime chat, Eliana said, "I miss home," out of the blue.
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"I won't get to visit her. I won't get to hug her. I won't get to tuck her in at night. We have FaceTime, and that's it," Oechsle wrote in her post. "For up to a month, or who knows how long... and many of my coworkers have had to do the same."
It will not be safe for Eliana to return home until two weeks after the couple's last exposure to a COVID-19 positive patient, which could mean mid-May in their area.
Oechsle wants to emphasize that her family's story is nothing new and not unique; health care and emergency professionals all over the world are making similar family sacrifices for the greater good and to do their jobs. "We have tons of co-workers and colleagues who have had to do the same thing," Oechsle said. "Tons. Hundreds."
And as Oechsle wrote in her post, the way others can honor their sacrifices right now is to adhere to stay-at-home guidelines.
"If... you are having to stay home with your kids all day, consider it a blessing and absolutely NOTHING less," Oechsle wrote. "And for heaven's sake, everyone, STAY. AT. HOME. The sooner this crap is over, the quicker my kid can come home."