This Is Rutherford
This is Maxim Casas
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Photos submitted by Maxim Casas
For the last five and a half years, since graduating from nursing school, Maxim Casas has been an Emergency Room nurse at Christ Hospital in Jersey City, New Jersey. As an Emergency Room nurse, Maxim has fearlessly taken on many challenges, but this pandemic crisis has proven to be one of the most difficult. This is Rutherford spoke to Maxim to find out more about her career, her family, and how COVID-19 has changed her life and her career.
TIR: Why did you choose to become a nurse?
Maxim Casas: I stumbled upon nursing. I wish I had a better answer than that, honestly. I was a paralegal for several years and felt empty doing that sort of work. My husband's cousin decided to leave his IT job for nursing school and I thought it was a good idea, so I did the same. I needed something that was exciting, involved people, and challenged me. I have never once second-guessed being a nurse since I started nursing school. I love what I do, I love to help people.
TIR: What is most rewarding about being a nurse?
MC: There are so many great things about being a nurse, however, what is most rewarding can also be the hardest - you can help people and, on a good day, they get to feel better, they are grateful and go home to their families. On a bad day, despite what you do to help, it doesn't turn out the way you want. Even on the bad days, like those that I have had since this pandemic hit, being a nurse is rewarding - I get to hold the hands of those who have lost the battle during the final moments of their life and let them know that everything is ok and they can be at peace. It is an honor to share those very private moments with someone. None of my patients pass alone, I always do my best to be by their side as they go on to the next phase of their life and it is very humbling.
TIR: What are some of the challenges that you face as an Emergency Room nurse?
MC: Challenge is all part of being a nurse. Physical, emotional, and mental challenges hit all nurses and medical workers everywhere. We care for the very sick and contagious and have to be careful to protect ourselves, we try to save all of our patients and sometimes are unsuccessful, we work long shifts and overtime hours and are physically exhausted. Every day presents a new challenge, but, let me tell you, it builds stamina, courage, and resilience.
TIR: What would you like people to understand about what nurses are doing right now during this pandemic health crisis?
MC: We are tired - we are short-staffed and work way more hours than we are scheduled. We are worried - worried that we can become infected and then infect our families and leave our co-workers and patients with fewer nurses to care for people. We gear up every single day - gowns that are to be used for an entire shift versus one per patient, goggles or glasses, shields, one N95 that is to be reused for several shifts and then another mask on top to protect our N95 that makes it hard to breathe, double gloves, hairnets or shower caps, and shoe covers. We signed up for this, we are proud to be able to do what we do, but it is not the most ideal situation for medical professionals right now.
TIR: You recently provided your neighbors with a letter introducing yourself and explaining some important information about the virus and how to stay safe. Why did you decide this was important to do?
MC: Honestly, the ER has been a very sad place during this pandemic. We are losing more battles than winning, no matter what we do to help, the outcome is not always what we hope for. I know people are scared and worried. I wrote this letter to provide comfort to my community because being able to comfort others, in turn, provides me comfort and calm. Doctors’ offices are closed and the hospital is the only place to go to get some medical help. I am hoping to be able to answer and calm some concerns, or jump in and be of assistance so that people do not have to risk exposure of the virus by going to the hospital, if possible. Knowing I can help my community with some of the small stuff is comforting to me. I just hope that people aren’t afraid to reach out.
TIR: As a nurse, what do you want people to understand about protecting their health and their families’ health during this time?
MC: I know that people are doing everything they can to stay safe - Wearing masks and gloves, disinfecting groceries, and respecting the 6 feet rule. I love to educate people, so here it goes:
You do not need to wear your mask in your car, especially with the windows closed. It is not safe for your breathing. Put your mask on right before exiting your car to run your errands, your lungs will thank you.
Gloves are great, but washing your hands is better! Wear your gloves into the store then THROW THEM AWAY. People do not realize how many germs stick to those gloves. Do not bring them into your car to touch the steering wheel to drive, or the house to reuse them at a later time. Carry some Purell at all times, wash your hands often, and don't touch your face.
The 2-week rule. Pick one day every 2 weeks to run your errands and designate one person to go do them. Buy enough groceries for 2 weeks at a time to limit your time around others and minimize exposure. I know everyone is tired of being at home but, trust me, bringing the whole family to the grocery store is NOT the way to get some quality time outside your home. Go for a walk, sit in your yard, fresh air is a million times better than grocery store air.
Wear a mask the right way. Make sure your mask is covering your NOSE and MOUTH. If your nose isn't covered, it's not protecting you.
Be mindful of your mental and physical health. This pandemic is putting all types of strains on people. Check-in with yourself to make sure you are ok. Make time for yourself. Find new activities for your kids. Sit outside when the weather is nice. Eat good food and stay hydrated. Go for a walk. Staying healthy matters just as much as getting healthy.
TIR: You have a husband and a one-year-old child at home. How are you handling the time apart as you work countless hours at the hospital and self-quarantine?
MC: This has been my biggest challenge during this pandemic. My husband, John, works for PSE&G as a relay technician and is also an essential worker. During the week, our daughter, Savanna, lives with my parents two towns away, and, if we are lucky to be off for more than two days in a row, she comes home for a short stay. However, our time together is far from normal. First, we sanitize the entire house. Her room is never entered when she is not here, only when we clean it between visits. There is no kissing. We wear masks around her to the point that I often wonder if she remembers what we even look like, but she seems to get a kick out of the masks right now. My husband and I agreed that one of us has to be healthy and minimally exposed and by default, he is it. I limit the amount of time I am in direct physical contact with my daughter. My husband and I sleep in separate rooms, I am on an air mattress in our office and use a separate sink to brush my teeth. To say we miss our family is an absolute understatement. We are, however, fortunate and grateful to have my parents who can watch our daughter just ten minutes away. It's not ideal, but we found a routine that keeps her safe and us partially sane, for now.
TIR: As someone who is putting her life on the line each day, how do you remain motivated and driven to take care of the patients that enter the ER?
MC: “Everybody belongs to somebody.” This is what I repeat to myself every day that has kept me focused. Patients who come into the hospital have to leave their family outside the hospital doors; there are no visitors, and, for some, it is the last time they will see each other. It’s heartbreaking to see these families so worried, afraid, and helpless. It’s my responsibility to do right by my patients and their families, provide calm and comfort, and encourage them to fight this virus with everything they have.
TIR: What do nurses need from their communities, families, neighbors, and friends right now?
MC: There has been an extreme outpouring of love and donations from the community. It’s amazing to see what we can do together to help each other. There are a million things nurses could use right about now, but, taking time to check in on medical workers and essential workers that you know, let them know you are a resource if they need anything, and continue to be patient and safe is what we really need. Even a quick chat about non-COVID and non-work things can go a long way to help us mentally remove ourselves from our daily routine and feel some sort of normalcy. And maybe some toilet paper (laughs). Rutherford’s local stores and restaurants have also been amazing. Suprema, for example, has sent dinner to my house several times (WE LOVE YOU). Coming home to a good meal that doesn’t need to be prepared makes such a huge difference for us after a 14-hour workday, you have no idea! We need everyone to stay safe and healthy, but if you need us, we are here for you.