Nurse Gem Scorp has now tested positive. But he’s feeling better and going back to work. He should be getting a thank you for his courage. Instead, he and other immigrants are getting a right-handed slap from the commander-in-chief.
Enabled by the virus, President Trump’s move to “pause” legal immigration is a way to sneak a major policy issue onto the agenda when there’s so much more pressing matters he can’t seem to get right.
It’s his invisible enemy again. Trump’s been hacking at it since January like a golfer whose stomach is in the way. Trump’s too slow to act. Too fast to reopen. Too thick to understand. Too self-centered to care.
Trump’s favorite phrase always puts himself at the apex of any situation, “the likes we’ve never seen before.”
And so here we are in the U.S. with close to 900,000 cases of coronavirus, and 50,000 deaths.
Fifty-thousand? Think of the last time you sat in a sold-out football or baseball stadium. Then imagine yourself cheering, but all of the seats were filled with death.
But wait. There’s more. Another 4 million unemployed, bringing the number to near 27 million jobless claims in the last month.
That’s the state of America now.
And all Trump can do is try to sneak in a vicious shot at the heart of American values. He puts a hood on the Statue of Liberty and suspends for 60 days those seeking green cards for permanent residency.
To protect jobs?
That’s what American bigots have said throughout history. The virus provides great political cover.
Doesn’t matter that keeping immigrants out doesn’t save a single life in the current crisis. Maybe Trump needs to figure out how to make a lot more masks and face shields in America.
If anything, Trump’s immigration hold may be keeping out the people this country needs the most. They are people who would selflessly put their own lives on the line in order to save others first.
That would aptly describe people like Scorp, who arrived here in 2006 on a green card.
It coincided with a U.S. nursing shortage back then. That deficit continues today. The need is even more critical.
Hard to say what will happen now. Details on Trump’s immigration idea shifted from a broad halt to a pause to an executive order riddled with loophole exceptions.
At the last minute, this executive order has an exception for among other things, foreign investors, as well as physicians and nurses.
Considering Trump’s capriciousness and an inefficient, slow moving bureaucracy, one should look at any change as blocking more good people from entry, thus limiting the chances of someone like Scorp, who has become one of the most important but unsung heroes in America.
He’s not the nurse who would dial up CNN or MSNBC to complain. He’s too busy working.
He’s one of the Filipino nurses on the front lines of the Covid war, at the designated Covid hospital in the hottest of hot spots in the world, Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, New York.
Scorp has stared down the invisible enemy—the one Donald Trump keeps talking about—right in the face.
If only he had enough PPE.
PPE? That’s not Pinoy Protective Equipment.
More masks, gowns, and face shields are urgently needed to fight this virus war. And there’s not enough of it where it’s needed most. Scorp told me when it all started that a hospital manager told him to “suck it up,” and do his job.
I first talked to Scorp two weeks ago. He was asymptomatic and still working at Elmhurst Hospital. But he was growing more concerned about his workplace conditions.
As a high-ranking radiology nurse who, in a pinch, floats between ICU and the ER, Scorp never complained. He and the other Filipino nurses saved gear from other jobs at nursing homes and other hospitals, and traded gear amongst themselves. They even reused and shared old gowns.
They did it because they saw their job as their duty.
“Only the Filipino will take the risk, even do CPR,” said Scorp. “Other non-Filipinos? Forget about it. We take the risk to save lives.”
Foolhardy? “I have no choice,” he told me. “If nobody will do it, who will?”
After the first time I interviewed him, Scorp got tested. Nurses usually are not able to get tested. No one wants to know. The assumption is they have it. Besides, they need to work. Or they just don’t want the stigma.
The hospital doesn’t really want to know either. There aren’t enough nurses. So ignorance is bliss–but poor public health policy.
Still, for the sake of his wife and toddler, Scorp insisted on the test for himself. He had to fight and demand it.
“It should be mandatory,” Scorp told me. “All nurses should be tested. Like the country. How else can we know or fight the virus. I’m just surprised I have no symptoms.”
His test came back last week.
“When I first saw the word ‘positive,’ I went blank,” Scorp told me. “I see all my positive patients have died. And then I think I’m going to die right now.”
But he came back to his senses. He tried to find the courage. As long as he was asymptomatic and wore a mask, he was following hospital orders to work until critically ill.
At work, he would try to joke. “Hey, I got 14 days left to live,” he would say with a smile. “But it’s OK, I have a mask.”
His friends would laugh. But Scorp was surprised that people whom he thought he was close to actually hid from him. Outright avoided him.
“You know who your friends are,” he said. It’s the bad kind of social distancing. Scorp feels shunned.
And then when he turns to family, he can’t. He’s been staying in a hotel designated for positive nurses, provided by the local nurses’ union.
And he’s been communicating with his family from afar. His wife understands and prepares food for him to take to the hotel. His son doesn’t understand why Daddy must only be seen from the window.
“It’s bad this separation,” he said. “I cannot live like this forever.”
Immigrant spirit undamaged
After learning the test results, he battled back mild symptoms with a homemade concoction of onion, garlic, oregano, and lemon juice. Just this week, he felt well enough to go back to work.
“I was scared and worried,” he told me. He was back to asymptomatic, but likely still positive. Would he be stigmatized and shunned for just wanting to do his job? He got all the PPE he needed at the beginning of his night shift, then was assured by his team leader that no one would shun him.
“I was excited,” he told me about going back fully garbed and reassured to his nursing post in radiology.
But then his first patient was a severe Covid case, intubated.
“I just closed my eyes, inhaled, and told myself, “I’m a Filipino nurse. Work as it is.”
Another nurse from a distance asked him if he should be out for 14 days?
The protocol says if there’s no fever in 72 hours from testing, you’re clear to work. He was clear to work.
Staffing is really bad,” Scorp told me. “So many nurses missing in action, and not even communicating to management. We don’t know if they left completely the hospital or are sick. That’s why I really came back last night. There was no night nurse last night. I can’t let my team down.”
Scorp was a green card immigrant who wanted to be an American. And now he’s on the front lines of the covid battle, sometimes without everything he needs.
He puts America first, even before family. Trump could take a lesson from these Filipino nurses on empathy, responsibility, comfort, and care.
Just talking to Scorp helped restore for me a lost sense of dedication to unity and purpose. Sitting at home doesn’t feel like you’re actively fighting the virus.
Intubating a patient without all the PPE does. America needs more people like them right now.
These are the people who have the values America too easily takes for granted, and then loses when our leadership fails to rally and lift us all up.
It’s the immigrant spirit that revives it all, and brings us back to life.
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes a column for the North American Bureau of Inquirer.net. Twitter @emilamok Listen to his Emil Amok’s Takeout wherever you podcast.
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