Sixteen 12-hour, all-night shifts down, and 16 more to go. Each shift was another day away from her husband and four children for Jessica Vogel ’10, working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic as a traveling intensive care unit (ICU) nurse in a northern New Jersey hospital.
Though the family was always in the back of her mind, Vogel, who lives in Canonsburg, Pa., had accepted a contract with AYA Healthcare in the spring of 2020 to support Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune, N.J. – not far from the nation’s early pandemic epicenter – in its battle to keep up with a steady influx of coronavirus patients.
“Early on, I definitely had a lot of anxiety going into it,” Vogel, a registered nurse, says of her decision. “I felt a pull on my heart to come out and help. I wanted the experience.”
Vogel, who majored in biology at W&J, left her job as an ICU nurse at Allegheny General Hospital at the beginning of April to accept an 8-week contract placing her and her sister in the throes of a packed ICU. When that contract ended, she then accepted another 4-week contract to provide COVID care at a hospital in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Her husband, (Chris Vogel ’08), agreed to stay home with their children, including an infant. She credits her husband and her large extended family for giving her the opportunity to go where she was needed in the throes of the pandemic.
“Ninety percent of the rooms were full; it was so busy that I never even got an orientation,” Vogel says of the ICU in the New Jersey hospital. “Everyone called it the Wild West.”
Though it had been a struggle to keep up with the demanding workload and was a sacrifice to be away from her family, Vogel says she was keeping up her family’s legacy of service.
“My grandfather was a pastor and served everyone near him,” Vogel says. “My mom was a nurse, and I’m the oldest of 13, so I always wanted to do something.”
For Vogel, one of the most valuable roles had been to help her patients communicate remotely with their families, who were prohibited from visiting the hospital.
“There was more than just being a nurse,” she says. “I did FaceTime with every shift, as well as texting and email.”
One patient in particular left a strong impression. While Vogel didn’t think the patient was going to make it through the night, when she returned the next evening the patient was still there, and Vogel had an opportunity to visit with her.
“The patient that night told me I was an angel,” she says.
For these moments of connection, Vogel says she was happy to have the opportunity to serve the greater good.