When Lynn Houston went to nursing school 30 years ago, she never imagined that her decision would one day lead her to join the fight against a devastating global pandemic.
But the COVID-19 pandemic swept her from her nurse manager role in the Transplant Department at Mayo Clinic in Florida to her current address: aboard the USNS Comfort — a U.S. Navy hospital ship stationed in New York City.
From its home base in Norfolk, Virginia, the ship has journeyed to its destination alongside a pier in Manhattan, accepting trauma, emergency and urgent care patients. While the ship was originally brought to New York to treat an overflow of patients without COVID-19, it has since been authorized to treat patients with COVID-19. The capacity of the ship has been reduced from 1,000 beds to 500 beds to allow for the extra room that patients with COVID-19 require.
Commander Houston is among approximately 123 Navy reservists who have been called to work in a medical capacity aboard the Comfort, treating patients with COVID-19 and other conditions.
"They called me on a Sunday night at 10:30 p.m. and told me to be ready to fly on Wednesday. So I flew to Norfolk, Virginia, on March 25," says Houston, who is working as a perioperative nurse in the operating room on the ship.
Houston is aboard the ship with with another Mayo nurse, Minerva Davis-McClintock, who she calls her "battle buddy."
Houston is assisting mostly with general surgeries. Like her fellow Navy reservists, she's practicing universal precautions with personal protective equipment under the assumption that everyone she treats may be COVID-19 positive. She considers it an honor to serve her country during these unprecedented times.
"We are definitely ready," she says. "Medical is at the tip of the spear right now, not artillery. It's flipped."
She views her current assignment as an amazing adventure that seamlessly blends active duty and reservists into one integrated team.
A typical day aboard the USNS Comfort begins with breakfast at 6 a.m. Houston then heads to the operating room for her room assignment and supplies. She sees patients through 5 p.m. and also participates in continuous training with the perioperative crew.
Although many miles separate Mayo Clinic in Florida from New York harbor, Mayo Clinic's mission is never far from her mind.
"Mayo ingrained in me how to treat patients," Houston says. "The needs of the patient come first."
It's a sentiment echoed by her supervisor, who also has served in the military.
"This ship sailed into the harbor to provide comfort to the city. I feel accomplished every day to provide great, quality care."Lynn Houston
"As a retired Air Force colonel and Military Treatment Facility commander, I understand that when the call comes, you go," says Michelin Joplin-Beale, nursing administrator in the Transplant Department at Mayo Clinic in Florida. "Lynn is a servant leader who embodies hard work and compassion for people. Our Transplant team misses her, but we know she's doing well and taking excellent care of the patient population she's been called to serve."
Houston has her orders through May 29, but the timeline could be shortened or extended, depending on the need.
When this mission is accomplished and the Comfort sails for home, the crew can take comfort in knowing they've helped take the wind out of the sails of the coronavirus.
"I know we're making a difference," Houston says. "We're all here for a common goal and cause. Here in New York, people put signs on the pier thanking us for the job we do every day. This ship sailed into the harbor to provide comfort to the city. I feel accomplished every day to provide great, quality care."