Frontline Worker Spotlight: Meet the Virginia Flight Nurse who Transports the Sickest of the Sick
Joshua McGee, a flight nurse of 20 years and a coach at CrossFit Parable in Chantilly, VA has spent the last two months working with the most critically ill COVID-19 patients.
- “We have been flying patients from smaller hospitals to ones with more resources. Basically these people are so sick they’re at the endpoint of what that hospital can do for them. They have nothing else to offer these patients, so we’re their last-ditch effort to save them,” McGee said.
Though working with highly contagious COVID patients has been stressful, McGee said it has quickly become almost routine.
- “At first, it was super nerve-racking. I’d constantly be wondering, ‘Is my PPE working? Did I touch something with this pair of gloves? You’re on edge the whole time,” he said.
- “But like a lot of things, the more we did it, that anxiety of doing transports kind of went away, and now it’s the new norm.”
In the early days of the pandemic, McGee said he would text his wife to let her know he was going on a COVID flight.
- “She was always like, ‘Oh my God, be careful.’ Now, I don’t even tell her. She just assumes I’m probably flying a COVID patient,” said McGee, who has also continued to coach two or three Zoom classes a week out of his garage at home for CrossFit Parable.
- “I have young kids—9 and 11—so I still worry a bit, but I’m doing everything we are being taught to do,” he added.
McGee said he is willing to do such a stressful, challenging, and potentially trauma-inducing job because he knows someone needs to.
- “I look at it this way. The only way this patient has a chance to survive is for me to fly them from point a to point b. I would want someone to do that for my wife, my mother, my child, so that’s why. I would want someone to do this for my family,” he said.
Also, he is fit and healthy and knows he can handle the task, and the virus.
- “I pride myself on being healthy and fit. I am not obese. I eat very well. I don’t have high blood pressure. I don’t have diabetes,” he said.
- McGee added: “Every single person we have transported has had a comorbidity. No, they’re not all over 65. There have been 30 somethings and 20 somethings, but they’re not without a medical history. And everyone I have spoken to who does my job has said the same. Every single one has been obese or diabetic or has had high blood pressure or some other health issue.”
Being healthy and fit physically has also helped McGee be mentally and emotionally strong enough to handle the daunting career he has chosen.
- “I have been a nurse for 20 years. I had had to learn to leave it at work and not take it home with me. I have learned to separate myself. I’ll tell a story to my wife about, let’s say it’s a 38 year-old woman. And my wife will ask, ‘Oh man, was she married? Does she have kids?’ But I try not to learn those things about the patients, because it would be too hard. I know that doesn’t sound very compassionate, but it’s how you get through it. And at the same time, I always think, ‘If this were my mother, my wife, what would I want done for them? And that’s what I do,” he said.