“It’s Never Too Late” is a series that tells the stories of people who decide to follow their dreams on their own terms.
Joanna Patchett has always had a fear of death and dying.
She said, “I was afraid of being responsible for people’s lives, and was afraid of the difference between life and death.”
And yet in July 2020, as hospitals filled with coronavirus cases, Ms. Patchett, fresh out of nursing school, found herself in the intensive care unit at Binghamton General Hospital in New York, caring for extremely sick Covid patients.
“Seeing how sick everyone was – it was heartbreaking. It was a life-changing and very difficult experience,” said Ms. Patchett, a 39-year-old Binghamton resident. “I didn’t expect to see so many people die so quickly, or to be on a floor full of ventilated patients, or to see people being intubated so many times, or to be their primary person to have contact with , while the rest of the world could do so. No.”
Ms. Patchett had dreams of becoming an actress, but she didn’t have much luck in the profession. In 2019, when she was 35, she went back to school after being accepted into an accelerated one-year nursing program. Most of her classmates went into nursing straight out of college, and many fondly called her Mom. As the pandemic worsened, she was struck by “how people would open up and be so vulnerable with us.”
He said, “You can see the humanity, how much everyone deserves life and how much the body struggles to live.”
Ms Patchett never thought her life would turn out like this. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English and drama from Ithaca College, she spent a decade feeling “lost and depressed”, moving from job to job—teaching English and yoga, working in a dental office. She was feeling behind in life as she did not know what she wanted to do. “I knew I had something to give, but didn’t know what it was,” she said.
“I used to envy people who challenged themselves,” Ms Patchett said. “I never had. If I wanted to move forward and find myself, I had to try something scary. I had to take risks and challenge myself.”
It was her mother who encouraged her to pursue nursing, feeling she would be good in the field, even though Ms. Patchett disagreed. “I didn’t think I was equipped for that experience, or that I could handle it spiritually and emotionally.”
But over the years, this is where she found herself, despite working 12-hour shifts, daily emergencies and often excruciatingly emotional work. For Ms. Patchett, who lives alone, returning to an empty apartment was especially difficult. Although her family lived only five miles away, she was often unable to visit her relatives due to the high risk of infection with the coronavirus, and there was nothing vibrant and vibrant to come home to. Many nights she returned from work crying. As the intense stress of being an ICU nurse took a toll on her, she adopted a cat, Tanki. “I wanted something worth loving,” she said. “Tankee really helped me deal with Covid. He is a 15 pound furball of love and emotional healing.
“Losing patients and having them die in such a devastating way made me question everything,” he said. “But I came to see this work as my duty. It was a war. I wasn’t going to let him die alone.”
The following interview has been edited and condensed.
Since, in your first nursing job, you unexpectedly found yourself assigned to the ICU floor and caring for Covid patients, have you ever regretted your decision to become a nurse?
No, I’ve never regretted this job or being here, even though it was scary. Anyway, I found my calling. I wasn’t afraid to be the person watching someone die or being with them when they were dying. I was good at being present when they passed, and I could work under extreme stress.
How did you find the strength to face your fears?
I didn’t have any option. You can’t run away from this kind of work. I discovered my ability to challenge and then find the strength to persevere. I didn’t have the facility to leave sick people, nor did I want to do so. Somebody had to be there. I knew it had to be me.
Once you were accepted into the nursing program, you realized that you were one of the oldest people to attend. how was that?
I felt out of place. Most of the people were 20, 25 years old, majoring in nursing soon after getting their first degree. They were flirtatious. I didn’t feel like a part of that excited discussion. But Gen Z is a welcoming group. They didn’t have the judgment that I had inside. Once we split into clinical groups, we became very tight-knit and dependent on each other. We shared many intense moments that gave me strength as we supported each other.
How did you feel when younger students used to call you mother?
it was very nice. I kept an eye on them and made sure everyone was okay. If no one has eaten food, I will bring food. I became the person they turned to if they were going through a tough time. Being older, I had experience that no one else had. And they made me feel like I mattered; It made me feel special. I also learned from him.
What has being a nurse taught you?
I’ve never had a job that was so meaningful or felt like I was serving a purpose. Facing death made me realize that you can’t give up. Through nursing, I’ve learned that life is going to be incredibly difficult, and it will hurt, but you have to choose to keep fighting – it’s part of life. I learned that I matter, and that I matter to those who are dying and who want me with them when they do.
After 18 months of fighting to save Covid patients, you decided to switch to palliative care. Why?
I got burnt. I realized that I would have to move into another part of nursing. On the floor of the ICU, I received the protection of death. I wanted to help people overcome their death, not watch people die, sobbing and gasping. When we thought we were out of danger of Covid, I started helping the elderly and terminally ill decide how they wanted to die. I am now a Hospice Nurse Case Manager at Lourdes Hospice, an outpatient home end-of-life care provider in Vestal, NY., Where I interact with 20 to 30 families per week. And I am part of the intense discussions that have to do with the dignity of dying.
What did you learn about yourself when you learned to care for others?
I have a voice that contains wisdom. I have a special ability to listen to people and see them through their difficult moments.
What’s the best advice you can give?
When it comes to changing your life, sometimes you have to make the decision to change. Once you do that, almost anything is possible. Everything you do contributes to who you are now. Ironically, My yoga, acting and teaching training gave me the ability to be grounded, present and in the moment. No part of your journey is ever wasted, even when you’re not sure what you’re doing, or where it will take you. you are never late; You haven’t come yet.