By Corbin Smith
The world we live in today is in desperate need of heroes, don’t you think? I don’t mean the type of heroes that can fly or shoot fire out of their hands, but the type of heroes who use their own talents for the benefit of those in need. Sickness and injustice seem to reign supreme right now and it can feel intimidating and or maybe even impossible to overcome. Thankfully, talented and thoughtful heroes do exist, and many are doing all they can to bring health, hope and confidence to all they come in contact with.
Claire Weeks (BS ’19), a recent BYU nursing alumna, is one of those modern heroes who used her medical knowledge and skills to fight COVID-19 in one of its major hotspots: New York City.
Weeks’ story begins years before she boarded that airplane to NYC, however. Like all memorable heroes, there is a powerful, deep-rooted backstory that pushed and challenged Weeks to the point where she was ready to take on the biggest challenge of her life across the country.
Originally from Sacramento, California, Weeks had grown up around a special nursing mentor: her mother. It was through both the inspiration of her mother and an amazing high school anatomy teacher that helped her fall in love with the human body and how it works. That fascination led her to the BYU nursing program, which brought her countless friends, valuable knowledge, and most importantly, the love of her life, Benson.
After graduating from BYU, Weeks took a job at Utah Valley Hospital as an ER nurse. She, like anyone else would be, was nervous for her first rotation on her own. Nevertheless, her first day was a huge step in her progression as a confident nurse. She shares, “It was my first day and in came the sickest patient to this day that I had ever seen. She probably shouldn’t have been alive. All of a sudden so much was going on, but slowly I could see her getting better. After that, I felt like I had the confidence to handle anything that came my way.”
Then, COVID-19 happened. COVID-19 hit hard. Most of us, including Weeks, were put in an unprecedented situation with no surety of what was going to happen next. Across the nation people were getting sick and medical resources were being exhausted, especially in NYC.
Weeks saw an opportunity. Even though she had planned a trip to Peru with her husband, part of her knew she needed to be part of the force that fought the illness. She knew she was ready. “I think a lot of us that went were ER nurses because we’re the type of people that like to get thrown into the fire,” she says, “I really wanted to go help where I felt like hope was needed.”
Although leaving her husband and home for three weeks was one of the hardest things she has ever done, she knew she was doing the right thing. From the minute she stepped off of the plane and into the hospital in New York, she was thrust into the most intense three-week experience any of us have likely experienced. “I was working every single day; I did a shift every day for 17 straight days.”
Those long hours in the hospital were not in vain, though. Weeks admits she witnessed lots of suffering and hardship, but the memories that stick with her are those that touched her heart. She shares this heartwarming experience, “In the hospital it is a big deal to get permission for family to visit a patient. They have so many rules about these things, so it needs to be pretty extreme circumstances for family to be allowed in. We had a patient whose condition got a lot worse each time we had to move her. Her son got permission to come be with her at her bedside around the time we needed to move her. I was super nervous. When we moved her, though, she didn’t change at all, she was perfect. She knew that he was there for her and she was holding on for him. That was definitely a little miracle.”
Other than the small tender mercies Weeks saw during her three-week period in NYC, she also learned tons of lessons she can take with her as she continues in her career as a nurse. The biggest lesson she learned was the importance of being adaptable. “During a pandemic so much is happening. You have patients lining up the hallways, and you’ve turned a storage closet into a room for your patient, and you’re running out of supplies,” Weeks says, “the most important thing is being able to work with the situation that you have, because it’ll always be changing and sometimes there’s just nothing you can do about it.” It is okay to go against the grain at times because you often have a person’s life in your hands.
All that being said, Weeks’ humility comes through and she admits that she could have never done it alone. She couldn’t have done it without her husband, who supported her ambition and waited for her at home as she served in NYC. The support she received from the other visiting nurses was vital for her success as well. “The amazing people I worked with made all the difference,” Weeks notes, “We all came together and helped each other in every single way. I was actually shocked by how sad I was when we said goodbye!” All great nurses and heroes alike need friends and supportive people to keep them going.
Weeks is now back home with her family in Utah. While COVID-19 may still be part of our lives today, we can all take peace knowing that people like Weeks are fighting for our health and safety.
Wherever you are, all across the nation, we hope you and your family are happy and strong. We miss you all! Stay safe and healthy, Cougars!