Myra Aguilar always knew she wanted to do something related to healthcare. Born and raised in Brooklyn by Mexican immigrants parents, Aguilar initially found herself doing medical research as a career.
“I wanted to have more person-to-person contact and help other people. In the lab, I wasn’t really interacting with other people,” said Aguilar. “I wanted to go into nursing as a way of helping others.”
Aguilar took the leap and went to nursing school. She found it to be challenging because no two patients are alike and you end up working with a lot of different personalities with your patients and colleagues alike.
“It was challenging to get to work with the different personalities of patients and peers, and working with other nurses, managers, and patients. Since they have different conditions, there’s a different level of patience to treat those patients,” said Aguilar. “There are elderly patients who are confused with dementia, and those that are in for substance use and are not aware of what they are doing. You have a certain level of patience because it’s a challenging situation.”
Aguilar has been working with NYU Langone’s Brooklyn campus for the past ten years, with the last couple of years working as a nurse practitioner. Things were going smoothly until COVID-19 started to work its way into our day-to-day lives.
Before coronavirus made its way to the states, she had been listening to podcasts from Italian physicians detailing what COVID-19 was doing to Italy. However, Aguilar didn’t realize just how bad it could possibly be.
“I didn’t expect it to be that bad. I did hear about it, but still didn’t expect it to be that bad,” said Aguilar. “Seeing the amount of death, in 10 years in the field, I’ve never seen that many people die in one period of time.”
Aguilar went right to the front lines, often working overnights to help fill in any help that was needed. The team worked tirelessly to make sure that everyone was cared for in the best way possible.
“Overall, we weren’t prepared. Though we were understaffed, whatever illness you have, it all comes down to basics. Your airway, you have a pulse, it always comes down to that,” said Aguilar. “In a lot of those COVID cases, patients have a respiratory or cardiac arrest, it’s similar modes and similar treatments. Eventually, we learned more about the disease. At NYU, we’re trying to find what works for these COVID patients.”
Aguilar says that though the pandemic isn’t necessarily what a lot of people in healthcare signed up for, it is something that they stepped up and handled with determination and care.
“I think that it basically brought out a lot of why we went into medicine,” said Aguilar. “It was a time where a lot of people in the medical field realized that, though this is not something I want or not what I signed up for, but this is what it entails. We work in communicable diseases, we know what to do to help others. It was our time to contribute.”
On May 21, Aguilar will be running the RBC Brooklyn Half with the New York Road Runners, which is one of Aguilar’s favorite runs as it goes through many Brooklyn neighborhoods. Aguilar used to run prior to the COVID-19 pandemic for her own health and exercise, but she found that running helped her come out of severe bouts of anxiety.
“Many years ago after 9/11, I developed anxiety and agoraphobia. Running was something I picked up and it helped me come out of that,” said Aguilar. “Since then, I had been running in my neighborhood. It wasn’t until I became a nurse that I met other people who would run in races, so I signed up and joined the Road Runners.”
For this half marathon, Aguilar is running on behalf of her fellow essential workers as well those who have survived COVID-19 and those who didn’t.
“In 2020, I did get COVID and that year, I was short of breath until the end of the year. I was diagnosed with a mild asthma, I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs at my job,” said Aguilar. “I slowly got back into it, the shortness of breath and fatigue improved. This year is the first year I went back to it and signed up for races, so I decided to also run for my colleagues and people with COVID who died and were survivors.”
With this in mind, Aguilar is glad to see how New York is fairing in the midst of the pandemic.
“I’m just happy with where we are today regarding COVID,” said Aguilar. “The combination of people getting vaccinated and this weaker strain has helped. We’re not seeing a major increase in hospitals or in intensive care in hospitals. It’s a relief for us healthcare workers to see that. I think what we’re doing is working.”