The last week of March 2020 was the beginning of a new era for many Americans as they went into lock-down mode as businesses closed and travel became restricted throughout the United States due to the outbreak of Covid-19. However, for me and about 500 of my peers, a new journey was just beginning. I had been called upon to serve aboard the USNS Mercy, a huge white floating hospital ship operated by the U. S. Navy. I was asked to prepare for deployment in about 3 days while businesses and even travel around the city of San Diego was being halted. That added an extra degree of difficulty as I prepared due to stores being closed that I wanted items from! We were able to find some work-arounds such as doing curbside pickup of boot socks from Dick’s Sporting Goods, where you drive up after ordering online, roll down the window, and they pitch your purchases to you through the open window from a “safe distance”. Talk about abnormal shopping!
Well, I was able to get everything I needed in those few short days of scrambling around, jammed all of it into a seabag, a backpack, and a garment bag, and boarded the huge white ship which pulled out of port heading North, but with no official destination. It was determined a few days later that we would be heading to Los Angeles to help ease the load of local hospitals by taking non-Covid patients and caring for them aboard the ship. This was done because infection control is hard to battle onboard a ship in normal times, let alone with a tenacious virus like Covid-19 of concern.
Ship life was not too bad once one figured out how to navigate around the ship. Due to the large number of officers onboard the vessel I spent part of my time sleeping in an enlisted rack and part of the time in an Officer Stateroom. I will have to say I preferred the spacious Stateroom, but the enlisted rack was tolerable. I found the rocking of the ship at sea soothing as I was rocked to sleep at night, and it only took me about a day to get used to walking down a passageway while compensating for the shifting deck. Once we arrived in Los Angeles harbor the rocking of the ship stopped and we only noticed the tide when comparing our height to the cruise ship terminal at which we were docked.
There were other perks of being an officer onboard such as having a separate (shorter) line for food from the enlisted and we ate in the Wardroom instead of the common galley. However, due to social distancing requirements both officers and enlisted were detoured to the flight deck to eat under a large white tent when the galley and Wardroom were too full.
After 6 weeks aboard the USNS Mercy, while most of my peers were preparing to head home, I was re-tasked to a land-based mission in the Los Angeles area aiding local nursing homes who had requested assistance and had been identified by the state as being in distress. I was honored to be named the Officer in Charge of this mission, reporting directly to the Fleet instead of the USNS Mercy. Multiple small Medical Strike Teams were formed and we headed out to various nursing homes to assess, provide staffing, and teach infection prevention and control measures to mitigate Covid-19 transmission. We obtained vans and they were loaded down with personal protective equipment for each Strike Team. If there is one thing the military is good at, it is providing needed gear for its personnel.
For this phase of the mission we were based out of a hotel, as the USNS Mercy had pulled out of Los Angeles Harbor and was headed back to San Diego. After 4 weeks of assisting over 500 nursing home patients, the military made the decision we were no longer needed and we handed off our mission to the National Guard (a state asset) and the California Medical Assistance Team for continued work. While I have really enjoyed the 70 day mission and the experiences I have taken part in and learned from, I will be happy to return to the Navy Hospital and see my teammates of the Emergency Department again.