By Janet Toliver
As a nurse, Melissa witnessed firsthand as the hospital she worked at was bombarded with people sick with Covid-19. “You can’t understand until you see like 3 or 4 people die in hours. You don’t know how to go on, but you did.”
While those months passed in a blur of overtime and stress, some moments are etched in her mind. She recalled patients who were unable to have visitors due to Covid-19 restrictions. As these patients grew sicker, their families were unable to say goodbye in person. Instead, she would video call the families while she administered to her patient to allow their families to be present in their final moments.
“I can’t imagine so many people died like that. That was messed up,” she said. “All those people died alone. I wish they didn’t have to.”
While Covid hit Chicago hospitals hard, the pandemic has also exacerbated the economic disparity in the medical settings. Melissa noticed that many individuals were coming in for medical care later than usual because of the fear of contracting Covid, leading to many treatable conditions not being seen until it was too late to treat. In addition, many people who lost their jobs also began to heavily drink, which lead to medical complications and sometimes death.
“It was frustrating. It’s not fair,” she stated.
She urged people to continue to seek treatment for their medical issues and not wait.
Melissa became a nurse after a long route. She first started as an activity aide at a nursing home where she worked for several years. Being around the medical aspect sparked an interest and she eventually decided to pursue a nursing degree. When she came to the Medical ICU unit, she knew she had found her place, despite it being one of the most intensive and demanding positions she has had so far.
“I have to try. They need help the most,” she said. “It’s not about my feelings. You have to keep going and keep trying to be strong for someone else.”
In the ICU, she is able to focus on each patient and get to know them over an extended period of time.
With her attendance to individuals who are chronically sick, it is no surprise that Melissa also has a deep abiding love for rescued animals. She can often be found surrounded by her two rescue dogs and cats.
“I stopped volunteering so I don’t end up with all the animals. They are my reason for everything,” she said.
When she first moved into her first apartment, one of her co-workers convinced her to come meet her cats that she was no longer able to keep since her husband became allergic. Once she met the cats, she knew she couldn’t leave without adopting them. After that, Melissa became known for taking in animals that needed a home and were not likely to find one, including a rescue dog, Alice, who had been returned by two families. Initially, Alice was wild and difficult to train. When she was returned for the second time, the shelter wasn’t sure they would find a home until one of the workers remembered Melissa. As soon as Melissa met Alice, she fell in love despite Alice jumping on her and head butting her.
Melissa’s love for her animals shines through. It is no surprise she calls the animal friendly Buena Park home. After growing up in the suburbs, Melissa moved around the city and found herself living in Buena Park. She finds Buena Park “an interesting part of the city with every walk of life.”
Buena Park also affords Melissa the opportunity to eat at several local restaurants and work out at local businesses. She uses yoga, crossfit, and kickboxing to get out of her comfort zone and remain active. While she looks forward to these local businesses reopening, she reminds us it is imperative to continue wearing masks.
“The things we’re doing have helped, but let’s not forget the hard way we had to learn it,” Melissa said with tears in her eyes. “I’m all for [reopening], but let’s do it the smart way so we don’t have to endure it again.”