When Pratt City native Rhoynda Bender received a memo that the hospital system she works for was seeking nurses to volunteer to travel to Detroit, Michigan to work at a sister hospital hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, she knew without hesitation that she wanted to help.
"I have a lot of family there. Detroit is like a second home. I kept hearing how nursing staff were getting sick and the public was hit hard. My family was worried about my safety, but there was no second guessing for me. I said, ‘These nurses are tired. They need our help. They are our sisters. We are our sisters’ keepers and they needed the help.”
Bender says nurses caring for patients with the virus would get sick, then be required to quarantine for two weeks, leaving those who remained understaffed and overworked. Bender was happy to provide some relief during a three-week period in April her own hospital was slow.
“We were always on a COVID floor working one on one with the patients. It was very heartbreaking to have a patient who was so sick and couldn’t have any family members. We were the only ones there, the healthcare workers. Some were on ventilators. They were sick. Patients were dying, coding every day. It was sad because they couldn’t have anyone there with them. We would sit and talk, pray and sing with them.”
Bender says nurses came in from lots of different places and she became friends with many of them. The out-of-town healthcare workers stayed at the Renaissance Marriott downtown and were the only guests besides the national guard in the hotel.
“My twin brother lives in Detroit. He would bring us food that I would share with other people I met. We would have a party in the room. Sometimes 7-8 or 10 coming in shifts and we practiced a little distance. That was the good thing about having family nearby.”
Bender traveled with three other Princeton Baptist nurses. She says they worked 12-hour shifts from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each week day. On the weekends, they would go out and tour the city by car, visiting Belle Isle and Motown.
“It was an awesome experience. I would do it again if I had to. They were in need. The staff was overwhelmed. I cherish that moment because it was a lesson well learned. It was all about compassion and empathy for the patients and their families who couldn’t be there with them.”
Bender’s family and friends welcomed her back to Birmingham with a party and parade. She says she is glad she answered the call to help in Detroit and so proud to work in nursing.
“I knew I wanted to be a nurse when I was a little girl. It’s a calling. It’s a good one. I have a lot of nurses and doctors in my family. You get a chance to minister to a lot of people. It’s a good thing. I wouldn’t change it if I had to.”
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