The staff at Nor-Lea Hospital had been gearing up for Thursday for weeks.
“This team out here today has actually been working and practicing for this day for about two months,” said David Shaw, Nor-Lea CEO from Lovington.
What they were warming up for was dispensing the first doses of the new vaccine to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic in southeast New Mexico. In Shaw’s own words, “it’s been a long time coming.”
Providers on the front lines of the pandemic – primarily doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians – were first in line for one of the 375 total doses of vaccine delivered Wednesday to Lea County. And those who volunteered to get those first injections had mixed emotions.
“It’s been a long several months because of what we were going through,” said Gina Quesada, RN, director of the Medical-Surgery Department at Nor-Lea Hospital. “As soon as I knew we were going to be able to get a vaccination, I knew I wanted to do it right away.”
Quesada oversees nurses who staff two hallways at Nor-Lea dedicated to COVID-19 patients, she said. She doesn’t work with patients every day but, due to most of her staff contracting the virus sometime since the start of the pandemic, there have been times when she had to “suit up.”
“I’m there every day, overseeing everything that’s going on,” Quesada said. “I’m just trying to support (my staff). But I’m a nurse first. When I’m needed, I got in and helped.”
Anxiety and even fear were common in the early days of the pandemic, simply because the virus was an unknown quantity. That’s still around to some extent today, said Hobbs firefighter-EMT Adam Marinovich.
“When it first came out, there was a lot of fear,” he said. “We didn’t know anything about it and we’re on the front lines. To say we weren’t worried would be a lie.
“But I think this (vaccine) is a step in the right direction. If this is a good as they say it is, it will be better for everybody.”
Quesada agreed: “There’s still kind of an anxious feeling – but I’m super excited. I want to tell everybody I got (the vaccine). I’m that excited about it.”
The anticipation started Wednesday when soldiers from the New Mexico Army and Air National Guard showed up at the hospital in Lovington with 250 doses of the vaccine for Nor-Lea and another 175 for Lea Regional Medical Center in Hobbs, what is hoped to be the first of weekly allotments to Lea County. That single event served to definitely boost the morale of hospital staff, CEO Shaw said.
“In some ways, it’s a very emotional day,” he said. “Healthcare workers especially have been on the front lines and we’ve seen a lot of our coworkers get sick. But I told the staff today don’t forget this day.
“Years from now, when your grandchildren are talking about the Pandemic of 2020, you can say you were here, giving some of the first vaccinations. We’re excited about being the beginning of the end for this pandemic.”
Andy Brosig may be reached at reporter1@