‘The greatest challenge of my career’: Richmond nurse set to help COVID-19 patients in flooded New York City hospitals

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Richmond nurse is answering New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plea for help in the state’s hospitals.

Michael Watterson is preparing to work in a New York City hospital for two months as the state struggles to contain the coronavirus. The decision comes after several New York nurses and doctors have already died after contracting the virus.

Before the coronavirus struck, Watterson spent much of his time working as a nurse in Chippenham and Retreat Doctors’ hospitals.

Starting next week, he’ll enter an environment he can’t fully prepare for: in the new epicenter of the country’s health crisis.

“This just feels like what I’m supposed to be doing right now,” Watterson told 8News.

Whether on the front line or staying at home, national leaders say everyone plays a role in the health crisis. Watterson told 8News his role is to help sick patients and relieve overworked hospital staff in New York.

“There’s not a whole lot of differentiation between which hospitals are hit hard because at this point they’re all being hit hard,” he said.

While Watterson is aware that he is risking his health for strangers, he told 8News “the benefit of helping people outweighs that risk.”

He is also going for the people he loves the most, his mom Karen who is battling cancer. “I know the risk is much higher for her,” Watterson said. “I need to help, get up there, [and] do what I can so ultimately it doesn’t reach people like her.”

The decision has caused a whirlwind of emotions for Watterson’s parents.

“I talk about him and I get tears in my eyes,” Randy Watterson, Michael’s dad, said. “We’re extremely proud of him is the first thing. We’re nervous and we’re scared.”

Doctors and nurses are struggling without enough personal protective equipment (PPE) all over the country, and especially in hard hit areas like New York City. Michael Watterson told 8News it’s unclear what personal protective supplies he will receive.

“I haven’t been promised anything as far as PPE goes,” he said. “I have been told that conditions are very rough.”

He knows the next two months in New York won’t be easy.

“This is absolutely going to be the greatest challenge of my career,” Watterson said. “I have heard from other nurses up there that self care is very important and that’s something that I will be mindful of.”

Watterson’s dad, Randy, asks non-essential workers across the country to take “stay at home” orders seriously as his son leaves home for a good cause. 

“We need to do our share too,” he said. “I got a new hero now and that’s my son Mike.”

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