All photos courtesy of Hedi Rudd

Simone Lawrence spends every Friday and every other Saturday working as a certified nursing assistant at UW Health Rehabilitation Hospital, helping stroke victims and brain injury patients as they struggle to learn to walk and talk again.

It’s a theater far removed from the emergency room and the intensive care unit. But that doesn’t mean Lawrence can afford to not think about catching the coronavirus—four months after the first case was reported in the United States, the rehab hospital has begun to treat patients recovering from COVID-19, Lawrence told UMOJA Magazine in an interview on May 14.

That scares her a little, Lawrence said, because scientists don’t know yet whether someone who’s recovered from COVID-19 can still transmit the virus. The fear makes her uncomfortable.

“It’s unfortunate to have this fear to care for somebody who is such a nice person, and obviously this virus doesn’t rely on who these people are,” Lawrence said.

To stay safe, Lawrence, who’s worked as a CNA for 15 years, falls back on her experience and her training. She and her fellow CNAs wear masks, gloves and face shields every day. 

But the rapid spread of the coronavirus and its lethality make it different than anything she’s ever confronted, Lawrence said. Maintaining the vigilance required to stay infection- free is, at times, all-consuming. 

“I’ve been in healthcare now for 15 years and I’ve never experienced this kind of situation where you have to be aware and cautious of everything,” Lawrence said. 

Her co-workers share her fear, Lawrence said, passing it back and forth in conversations in the break room. They talk about whether they’re going to keep working, “depending on what happens and what turnarounds come . . . It’s all just working under uncertainty.” 

The worry doesn’t end when she strips off her scrubs and walks out the hospital’s doors. It follows her home. 

“Honestly, the biggest challenge is the fact that I have to keep my household safe and make sure I know what’s going at work and that we are being clean at work to keep my family safe,” Lawrence said.  “I have a seven-year old with asthma and a 14-year-old, who is relatively healthy . . . I’ve got to keep both of them safe.”

To do that, Lawrence said, requires tunnel vision. And an abiding, armor-like faith in herself.

“I have to just remember I’ve been in situations and close calls and the fear that is being put into the media can’t really affect me.”

Lawrence, who also works as the executive assistant to One City Schools CEO Kaleem Caire, said she plans to keep working as a CNA despite the danger posed by the coronavirus. Her family needs the money and her patients need her, Lawrence said.

“I just can’t walk away from my job or walk away from taking care of people just because there’s a pandemic.”