Serving a greater purpose: Alabaster nurse working in New York hospital

ALABASTER – In less than a week, Kristen Kytle, an Alabaster resident, went from working as a nurse in Brookwood Baptist Medical Center’s COVID-19 intensive care unit where, at the time, there was only one person on a ventilator, to working at a New York hospital and caring for the sickest COVID-19 patients.

“They’re all on ventilators here,” Kytle said. “At Brookwood, most had a little bit of respiratory difficulty but otherwise they were breathing fine on their own. But here, they’re on dialysis, experiencing kidney and lung failure and even in medically induced comas.”

For the next eight weeks, Kytle and her coworker Carrie Williams are working four days a week at Southside Hospital on Long Island in Bay Shore, New York. They’re living at an extended stay hotel just minutes away. Their contracts end on June 11.

Kytle said she first learned about opportunities to work as a travel nurse through a friend who had taken a job in Minnesota. As she looked into it more, she found an opportunity to help at a hospital in Tennessee. She was hired for the job, but the contract was later canceled because the need had subsided. She then heard about an opportunity to help care for COVID-19 patients in New York and decided to go for it.

“My husband and I have older kids so it’s a little easier for me,” said Kytle, who has a 17-year-old daughter named Megan and a 21-year-old son named John David. “I haven’t been missing any important events because they’re all canceled.”

Kylte said she talks on the phone to her husband and son every day and talks to her daughter on FaceTime every day.

“At first, I was apprehensive and uneasy about her going to New York because we’re really close and I knew I would miss her,” Megan said.

Megan said her mom is her best friend and she talks to her about everything, so she was emotional the first few days after her mom’s departure.

“But I know she’s doing what she can to help and I’m really proud of her,” Megan said. “I know she’s serving a bigger purpose.”

“I was nervous, but not scared for my safety,” Kytle said about working as a nurse in New York – an epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis. “I had a friend already here who was telling me what to expect. There’s an adequate supply of PPE available to everyone here.”

Personal protective equipment refers to the face masks and shields, gowns, goggles and gloves worn by medical professionals to protect them from infection.

Kytle said she received a warm welcome from the doctors and nurses she’s working with at Southside Hospital.

“Everyone’s been great to work with and they’re so thankful to have help,” Kytle said. “I have had some people make comments about how they love my Southern accent, which is funny because I never thought that I had a strong accent.”

Kytle said the nurses and doctors there very supportive of each other and they’ve each found their own ways to cope with the stress and sadness associated with what they’re witnessing every day.

“They’ve been doing this for six weeks,” Kytle said. “Some have developed tough exteriors and others may get emotional, but there’s definitely a strong support system here.”

Kytle said doctors can often be found letting patients use their cell phones to video chat with their family.

For Kytle, the experience has been eye opening.

“I just want to tell people back home to keep up the social distancing so that it doesn’t get this bad in Alabama,” she said. “And call to check on your friends and family. Do a mental health check-in to make sure they’re all right.”