Stories from the Frontline: Nursing Patients Inside NYC ICU Unit

Olivia Gasser ’14 is thankful for her college internship while at Georgetown University where for one summer, she worked with adult patients in the ICU unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City.

Gasser, a pediatric ICU nurse now at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell in NYC, was told last week that her unit, which treats pediatric ICU patients, was converting into a full adult ICU unit to treat those with COVID-19. Gasser is now one of the nurses on the frontlines treating adult COVID-19 patients three days a week.

“Many of us have had little or no experience treating adults in the ICU,” said Gasser, whose pediatric patients have since all been transferred safely to New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. “We are learning as we go and practicing group nursing in order to share all of our knowledge to help these patients as best as we can.”

On any given day now, Gasser’s ICU unit sees 20 patients — all of whom are COVID-19 positive. Three weeks ago, the unit was a normal pediatric floor treating pediatric RSV or flu cases in children. Now Gasser and her coworkers are doing their best to help their adult patients fight the virus that has infiltrated New York City.

“We’re seeing doctors begin to weigh decisions about life and death with family members of those who are positive,” said Gasser, who has anxiety about this new normal.
“The medical side of COVID is straightforward,” she explained. “The emotional part, however, is extremely overwhelming. The virus is so widespread that it really can hit anyone, and I’ve never experienced anything like this.”

Gasser is most anxious that she will bring the virus home, unintentionally, on her off days, which she spends in self isolation at her family’s New Jersey home. For the three days she works in New York City, she stays alone in her apartment.

“There is absolutely no one in my building nowadays. It’s silent except for the sirens,” she said.

Yet despite the critical situation, Gasser wouldn’t change her profession. She decided to become a nurse, in fact, after experiencing first-hand the stellar care her nurses provided after her own ACL surgery.

Today, Gasser continues to find comfort in the support of her staff and friends at work. She’s not afraid to ask questions – a quality of comradery she learned while at Oak Knoll.

“Going to school with all girls, I was never afraid to speak up. We all leaned on each other as my coworkers and I are now,” she said. “Also, without my faith and knowing that this is all a part of a bigger plan, I believe everything would be more difficult for me. I have profound faith that everything happens for a reason and my faith really developed during my time at Oak Knoll.”

For now, Gasser is grateful to bridge the gap between her patients sick with COVID-19 and their families.

“I facetime with their families and I try to make them feel at ease,” she said. “It’s still an honor to be able treat patients at their most vulnerable time.”


Stories from the Frontline is a signature Oak Knoll editorial feature that aims to highlight all of the hardworking alumnae/i of Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child who are out on the frontlines of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. These alumnae/i may be in the medical, law enforcement, and other emergency service fields. Do you know someone we should talk to? Email communications@oakknoll.org.

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