Posted by Elly Rostoum on April 30, 2020 in Blog

April is Arab American Heritage Month, and this year, we’re recognizing it by sharing a story each week of an Arab American hero on the frontline of community service in the fight against COVID-19.

Meet Nora Shehadah George of Florida.

Nora Shehadah George is an American hero.

Nora is an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) registered nurse, with more than 20 years of experience. She is not a stranger to pain.

With her boys out of the house, she put her house on the market earlier this year and decided to become a travel nurse. “I wanted to go on a mission trip, see the country and the world, and focus on someone other than me,” she says.

“COVID-19 changed everything. I was originally set to go to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, but when the opportunity came up to volunteer in Massachusetts with a sister hospital, I didn’t hesitate. It’s a lot less money, but for me, it was about helping out fellow nurses. I wasn’t afraid to go, it all happened in less than 15 hours.” Nora was already well acquainted with all the protocols for caring for COVID-19 patients. She took care of the first COVID-19 positive patient in Florida for two weeks.

Nora has now been volunteering in Massachusetts for three weeks. She works the night shifts and takes care of some of the sickest patients. “We had fewer cases in Florida. Less than a dozen confirmed at the hospital at the time. But they were not nearly as sick as what the patients I am taking care of in Massachusetts. My patients are critically ill, they are alone and scared. The hardest part is that families are not allowed to visit.”

Given how contagious COVID-19 is, healthcare professionals are caring for patients behind masks and protective gear, which can feel very impersonal. Nora misses that human connection with her patients the most. “I took care of a patient that has connections to the space industry. I am a huge fan of the space industry. I watch every rocket launch that I can. I would have loved to talk to him about our shared passion.” During a particularly difficult night in the ICU, Nora spoke with him. “Families often can’t wrap their minds over how sick their loved ones really are. There is a lot of dying. And most patients are sedated and unaware,” she said, her voice trembling with tears. “My hospital has been great facilitating communications between patients and their families, through FaceTime and iPads, but it is still hard.” Nora, like her fellow nurses on the front lines of COVID-19, often witnesses and facilitates the last moments between patients and their loved ones.

I see a lot of young people in their 30s and 40s and they are very sick. A lot of them are dying. “If they live, they are never going to be the same. Some might have to have dialysis for the rest of their lives, others have strokes. I am not seeing a lot of outcomes if you are sick enough to be in the ICU. People are so sick. I have never seen anything like that in my career,” she added.

“I hope people take this seriously. I know that a lot of people are stressed from losing their jobs and businesses. We must hold up hope. People often talk about making a difference in the world. It is very easy how: stay home, continue social distancing, and wash your hands.”

Nora is a Florida girl. Her first impression of Massachusetts was how cold it still was in April. She loves fishing, sun-bathing, and swimming. “I look forward to when we can all bask in the sun and dig our toes in the sand.” Until then, Nora, who loves history, has taken shorts trips to visit Boston’s historical sites to keep her spirits up.

When I asked her if she was had any regrets, Nora immediately replied, “I am just glad I can help. When we first arrived at the hospital in Massachusetts, the nurses and staff lined the hallway and applauded us. They are so sweet, and I am just so happy I can help.”

“I hadn’t seen my boys or my mom for a couple of weeks before volunteering to come up to Massachusetts, because I was social distancing while I was taking care of my COVID-19 positive patient in Florida. They were worried about me coming up here, and I miss them. It’s hard. But I think my boys are proud of me.”

Nora Shehadah George — an American hero.