Kneisel '04 Faces Daily COVID-19 Challenge

Kneisel '04 Faces Daily COVID-19 Challenge

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

From a small town in Iowa to the front line of a pandemic. That’s been the journey for Jodi Kneisel. For the past 16 years, Kneisel ‘04, has served as a nurse in an Intensive Care Unit at a hospital in New York City. But since early March, Kneisel’s life, like many others, has been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Kneisel’s path from Griswold, Iowa (population around 1,000) led her to Midland, where she studied nursing and also ran on the track and cross country teams. But her surroundings suddenly got much bigger when she became a nanny in New York City one summer. “I’m the youngest of three children and growing up on a farm in a small town was a wonderful experience,” Kneisel said. “But I always knew there was more out there. The mom of the family I was nannying for told me I should apply to a New York City hospital and see what happens. I love New York City and I’ve created a life for myself here.”

Kneisel’s life, along with that of healthcare professionals all across the country, took a dramatic turn in March as the spread of the coronavirus ensued. “New York City is a melting pot and once the disease started to spread, we knew it was inevitable,” she said. “But we didn’t anticipate it happening at this degree. You are never prepared for something like this. Our amount of patients quadrupled. I had never been scared to go into work, but I was terrified. Rooms where elective surgeries had taken place were now coronavirus units and operating beds became ICU beds.”

Even things that Kneisel had taken for granted, like masks, gloves and other surgical equipment, took on a whole new meaning. “Within two weeks, a lot of our equipment was in limited supply,” she said. “Normally, you will change masks after you visit each patient, but we had to start wearing our masks for an entire week.”

Death is a harsh reality that doctors and nurses must deal with on a daily basis. But with New York state having reported more than 24,000 COVID-19-related deaths as of early May, Kneisel has seen grief taken to an entirely new level. “I know people think this disease is hardest on the elderly, but it doesn’t discriminate. Some of the sickest patients I’ve seen are healthy males ages 20 to 50 and I’ve seen a lot of young people die,” she said. “It’s hard because they’re dying alone and their families don’t understand that they can’t see them. The dying process is always tough, but the families aren’t getting that closure. We see them crying, but we can’t even stop to console them.”

By taking a vow to care for others, Kneisel and her co-workers have made numerous sacrifices during the pandemic. “I’ve been here for 16 years and I’m willing and able to help,” she said. “Everyone is on fumes here, which is unavoidable. There are times you go 12 hours without eating or drinking because you’re scared to take off your gown or mask.”

It hit Kneisel on a personal level as well, forcing her to isolate herself from others and alter her living conditions. “One of the first things I did was move out of my current apartment because I didn’t feel safe. I needed to be where there’s an elevator and a front-desk person for safety reasons,” she said. “I have four close friends who have contracted COVID-19 and one of my colleagues died.”

As difficult as the past two months have been, Kneisel believes there can be light at the end of the tunnel if people continue to practice social distancing and follow guidelines provided to them by local health experts. “I have seen the numbers drop in our patients in the ER, but the minute we let our guard down and aren’t cautious, it can rebound,” she said. “People need to respect distance between others and practice good hand hygiene. Take Vitamin C, exercise, and maintain strong mental health.”

Kneisel said one of the hardest parts has been not being able to see her family, and not knowing when she might be able to see them again. What has provided her with inspiration is the way NYC has responded to its healthcare workers on a nightly basis. “You can hear it every night in the city and it’s so heartwarming,” she said. “People will open their windows and scream, or honk, or shake cowbells. It brings tears to my eyes.”

Kneisel said she maintains contact with former professors and classmates and has made a handful of trips back to campus over the years. “I have close friends who I went to Midland with that I talk to once a week,” she said. “And the people back home have been so supportive. I have old neighbors making me masks and the outpouring from the midwest has been unbelievable. I wouldn’t be able to make it here without the help from people back home.”