Time Magazine has announced its annual gallery of Top 100 most influential people in the world, and among the well-known politicians, artists, scientists, pop culture figures, et al, is Amy O’Sullivan, an intrepid ER nurse at Wyckoff Medical Center here in Bushwick.
Nearly seven months have elapsed since the Covid outbreak, and the exuberant expressions of gratitude for health care workers that once rang out every evening at 7 from the stoops and windowsills of soup ladle-wielding New Yorkers have become greatly subdued. Time’s inclusion of healthcare professionals (Dr. Fauci also made the list), then, is a welcome move, reminding readers of the nurses, orderlies, doctors and EMTs whose job it is to keep us alive.
O’Sullivan was singled out for praise (Katie Couric did the praising, incidentally) partly because she treated the elderly woman who would become New York City’s first Covid-related fatality.
Further adding luster to that patina of heroism was the fact that, shortly after treating the patient, who was admitted to the hospital on March 4, the 18-year veteran of Wyckoff Medical Center herself was laid low by the virus (she survived, thankfully). She has been rewarded by Time not only with a profile (filed under the “icons” category), but pride of place on one of eight special covers for the issue released by the magazine.
Her selection will no doubt be stirring for many Bushwick residents, especially those whose daily routine during the pandemic’s New York City peak may have taken them past her workplace; there, a fleet of giant, white refrigerator trucks occupied the entire length of Stanhope Street between Wyckoff and Saint Nicholas avenues, parked there to help the beleaguered hospital cope with the overflow of dead bodies.
O’Sullivan, who in the profile’s photo appears every inch an IV wielding Valkyrie, is just one of thousands of nurses doing heroic work across the vast expanse of this city. But it’s clear that, for Time Magazine, she’s a stand-in not just for health care workers city – nay – countrywide, but more specifically for those toiling away in vulnerable neighborhoods, ones whose residents – lower income POCs – are at the greatest risk of contracting Covid. Wyckoff Medical Center is known as having been one of the hardest hit facilities in the city when New York was coronavirus ground zero, enough to warrant its own profile by, surprise, Time Magazine. The article, written last May by Simon Shuster, described a hospital caught completely unawares by the virus, a place where in early March only one room in its intensive care unit was set aside for cases of infectious disease; within one month, 60 more had been hastily cobbled together.
The article mentioned not only O’Sullivan – called by Shuster the “straight-talking, fist-pumping force of the emergency room” – but also her wife, Tiffany Latz, likewise a Wyckoff Medical Center nurse. She is quoted as saying, “The pandemic has created so much worry and grief, but it has also magnified my joy and gratitude. I cry everyday for both.”
After falling ill with Covid-19 following her treatment of the woman whose death was the beginning of a long, grim march for New York, O’Sullivan’s coworkers ensconced her on Wyckoff Hospital’s 10th floor.
As the Shuster article relates, prior to being put on a ventilator and losing consciousness, O’Sullivan was heard to implore Wyckoff Hospital’s Dr. Parvez Mir to, “Please save me, so I can get back to work.” Two weeks later, she had fully recovered and done just that.
While the bad old days in New York following the outbreak may seem like a distant memory, the recent uptick in cases here should counsel caution, especially as we creep closer to the holidays, which are largely celebrated indoors. The increase ought also to keep in the forefront of our thoughts men and women like Amy O’Sullivan, whose job is far from over. Who knows, they might appreciate us breaking out our pots and pans again.
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