A mother of four who works as a nurse practitioner in Atlanta is opening up about the bittersweet experience of leaving her family behind and traveling to another state to work on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dakoyoia Billie, who has a husband and four children, told Parents magazine that she had no hesitations about stepping up and helping COVID-19 patients in New York City earlier this year.
"Yes, I have four kids and a busy life as a nurse-practitioner, but when I saw a chance to care for those who needed it most, I couldn’t say no," Billie said in a first-person essay featured in the magazine's August issue.
Billie said she first received an "emergency request" calling for health care workers in New York City — once the hot spot for the coronavirus — at the end of March.
The request came just weeks after she and her husband Marcus had finally brought home their twin babies — a boy, Karrington, and a girl, Kinsley — from the hospital NICU. (The twins were born at 29 weeks in December.)
Billie recalled to Parents how her husband told her at the time, "If you feel you can make a difference, then you should go."
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She also realized that being away from home would protect — and provide for — her family, which also includes their two sons, Jaylen, 16, and Elijah, 4.
"I’m a nurse-practitioner, and this was a call to practice what’s known as the art and heart of nursing," she said. "My hospital in Atlanta had a few COVID patients, and if I stayed, bringing whatever I came in contact with home, I would put the kids at risk. The dangerous work also paid well, as it should."
Days after being recruited and submitting an application for the job, Billie was on a plane to the Big Apple. Almost immediately, Billie said she struggled to adjust to the intense workload, which included 12-hour shifts for three weeks straight.
"The beginning was tough. Really tough. I learned to compartmentalize by concentrating on the fact that the work was temporary," she told Parents. "I’d tell myself: 'I'm here to help, and when it's all said and done, I’ll be a part of history, and I can go back to my family.'"
Though she always had adequate protective equipment, Billie pointed out in the essay that the hospital staff was often "overwhelmed" by the situation in New York, which resulted in little communication with the patients' family members.
"When I'd reach out, they'd say, 'Thank you, this is the first news we've heard,'" she explained. "I could set up Zoom calls between patients and their families, which made a world of difference."
After finishing her long shifts, Billie noted to Parents how she routinely left her shoes outside the hotel room door and sprayed all her clothes with Lysol before taking a shower. When she was finally clean, Billie would FaceTime her family in Atlanta — calls she said often motivated her to keep going, even on the toughest of days.
"Seeing their luscious cheeks and hearing their voices helped me push on. My 4-year-old, Elijah, would ask if I’d come home when I was done saving lives, and I assured him that I’d be home as soon as I could," she recalled to the outlet. "He was happy with that answer as long as he could admire my stethoscope."
Despite being away from her family, Billie said she still managed to stay involved by arranging for her grandmother and two part-time caregivers to look after the kids, helping her "supportive" husband get his own work done.
She also took hours out of her day to pump breast milk and noted how she would keep it in a cooler until Fridays and then send it home to her family — something she shared "wasn't cheap, but it had to be done."
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Over time, Billie said things in New York progressively got better, with fewer and fewer hospital patients going into cardiac arrest or not breathing.
By June, the mother of four had returned to Atlanta and reunited with her family — but only for a short while, as she was called the next month to help COVID-19 patients in San Antonio, Texas.
As she continues to work in Texas and make friends "with people of all backgrounds, all of whom put aside differences and came together," Billie said she still has no regrets about temporarily leaving her family for a greater good.
"It may be Atlanta that needs help next time, or maybe some other city," she told Parents. "Whatever happens, I’ll be ready and willing to do the same thing."
As of Tuesday, there have been over 3.4 million cases and 135,916 deaths attributed to coronavirus in the United States, according to the New York Times.
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