They're on the front lines of a deadly pandemic. At the same time, some of them were marching on the front lines for social and racial reform.
For their efforts, a small group of San Diego County nurses is now being recognized with the President’s Award from the American Nurses Association of California.
“I’ve never felt that amount of emotional baggage,” said Christina Kelley, RN.
Kelley is Sharp Chula Vista’s director of education. The pandemic drained her of her energy.
“It’s been pretty tough,” Kelley said with a sigh.
“We are still exceedingly exhausted, and we still feel exceedingly raw,” said one of her best friends, Danisha Jenkins, RN.
Jenkins is Sharp Chula Vista’s director of critical care. On top of the pandemic, the duo also helped start a movement to care for social justice protestors in the thick of the marches that swept through San Diego County.
Jenkins said it started after the two participated in a March shortly after George Floyd’s murder.
“There was tear gas,"Jenkins said. "There were pepper balls raining down from snipers from on tops of the buildings. It was chaos. I had never experienced anything like that.”
Kelley said they saw “patients” everywhere but weren’t equipped to help. She took it as a call to action.
Kelley and Jenkins organized other nurses from other medical groups like UC San Diego Health, Scripps, and Kaiser, and told them, "We need to be in the mix, we need to be where the hurting is, and we need to be there to provide care.”
Roughly 30 nurse volunteers formed the San Diego Protest Medical Group. They bought their own safety gear and medical equipment.
“Everyone nicknamed us ‘The Nurses,’” said a smiling Laura Chechel, RN. “We had someone on the police radio all the time, and they would announce that, ‘The Nurses are here’ or ‘The Nurses are watching.’”
Kelley said they have marched in more than 200 protests and cared for countless people with a variety of injuries and conditions.
“We were grateful to be allowed into this space and to assist in these protests in any way that we could,” Chechel said.
All three nurses agreed it was nice to be recognized for their efforts, but they would have done the work anyway.