SAN DIEGO — A San Diego woman known as the "dancing nurse" returned home Saturday after working nearly a month straight in a Texas hospital.
It was registered Nurse Ana Wilkinson's second stint on the road fighting COVID-19 since the pandemic began. She went to New York for six weeks from April to May to help out there.
While in New York she danced to bring joy to her patients. That's how she got her nickname, the "dancing nurse."
"They kinda just see me dance, and they’re like, 'wait a minute I know you!'" Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson said she is recognized sometimes at home in San Diego.
"They [my patients] probably think I’m weird right off the bat but it’s a good conversation from there on, and I think it actually eases them because they’re so nervous and so scared," she said.
As cases are spiking across the country, hospitalizations are at an all-time high. Across the country, about 300,000 people in the U.S. have died of the virus.
Wilkinson says she hasn't kept track of all the patients that she's lost.
"I do not, I mean it wouldn’t," she said. "I prefer keeping count of people I save, I mean people we all save it’s not just me."
Wilkinson says she's worked on hospital floors that have lost as many as 10 people in a single day. Some of those patients stay with her after they've passed.
"My 23-year-olds, my 25 — I say 'mine' because I felt like they were my kids — that I tried everything I could to save them," Wilkinson said. 'And to a lady who was 32-years-old who died from COVID. That’s what I try to tell people, COVID does not discriminate, age, race, color, anything. It just picks you."
She squeezed their hands in reassurance. Sometimes she's the last smile they see.
Now that a vaccine is coming, she's excited to have a weapon in the war.
"We just need everyone on board to do this," she said. "...We’re all going to get vaccinated. We all are going to stop this war."
It's a war that kept her from seeing her 7-year-old son Declan lose his first and second tooth. A war that kept her on the opposite coast for birthdays, Easter and Mother's Day. A war she's continuing to fight when she returns to work at UCSD Medical Center on Monday.
"We are definitely warriors and we'd do it again, and we'd do it again and we'd do it again because we love it. We love helping others," Wilkinson said. "We love helping people and that's why we do this because we want to make a difference in the world."
She said working in a rural Texas hospital was very different from her time in New York. In the month, she was working 10+ hour shifts, she only had three days off.
She said we've learned a lot about how to treat coronavirus patients since the beginning of the pandemic.
"I was in Midland and Odessa. We were a very small town but we saw everything," she said.
The most stressful part of her work was how packed the hospital became, saying patients were sent from nearby hospitals that were at capacity.
When asked if she would return to New York and Texas despite missing time with her family, she said she would do it "in a heartbeat."
"I love these 'medical missions,' I call them, because yes we see a lot of things," she said. "Yes it’s emotional and some of us have PTSD because we do see a lot. But we do it because we love it. We love helping others, we love making a difference as much as we can."
This story was originally published by Cassie Carlisle on KGTV in San Diego.