‘It’s all hands on deck’

‘It’s all hands on deck’

Celia Engelson

Wagner College nursing alumna Celia Engelson has been through several big changes in her career — but none like the ones set in motion by the coronavirus epidemic.

She began her professional career in the publishing field, earning her master’s degree from New York University’s famed publishing studies program — but something about the job just wasn’t right for her.

“I got tired of working with paper,” she said. “I wanted to work with people.”

In 2003 she enrolled in the Wagner nursing school’s inaugural second-degree program, tailored for people like her who already possessed a bachelor’s degree in another field but wanted to become a nurse. She earned her B.S. in nursing in 2004, worked in the field for several years, and decided she wanted to add another level of education to her resume. She earned her master’s degree in nursing from Wagner College, with certification as a family nurse practitioner, in 2012.

Since April 2015, she’s been working as an N.P. at a neurology clinic operated by the NYU Langone Medical Center that treats neurofibromatosis, or N.F., a genetic disorder of the nervous system that causes tumors to form in the brain, spinal cord and nerves.

“It’s the most common rare disease,” Celia said, noting that her N.F. clinic is the largest and busiest in the nation.

During the first couple of weeks of the coronavirus outbreak, from middle to late March, Celia worked from home. But in early April, when NYU Langone’s hospital floors were filled with COVID-19 patients, she was redeployed to work as an inpatient N.P. on a COVID ward.

The unit was actually a combined ward with two distinct sides. All of the patients on the ward were transplant patients (heart, lung, liver and kidney) and were, thus, immunocompromised by their antirejection medications — but some also exhibited COVID symptoms or tested positive for the coronavirus.

“We had a ‘clean’ team, and a ‘dirty’ team,” Celia said. All of her work was on the COVID side.

She noted that one of the frequent complications of coronavirus disease is renal failure, “on top of the challenges they face from their organ transplants — like they haven’t been through enough already.”

After Celia had been on the transplant ward for a couple of weeks, she was moved to a medical floor for adult patients diagnosed with COVID who had been admitted either through the emergency room or from elsewhere within the hospital.

“It’s a less acute setting for more stable patients,” she said.

The move occurred as NYU Langone started “decompressing” its COVID units — there were still just as many COVID patients in the intensive-care units, but there was a downward trend in new ICU admissions.

When we spoke with Celia on April 28, she had been on the medical COVID floor for two weeks, and she expected to be working there for two or three more weeks.

One of her surprises during this whole experience has been the way new challenges and new teammates have brought new stimulation to her career.

Celia remarked upon the unusual composition of the inpatient COVID care teams on which she’s served, “teams of redeployed professionals from several other specialties — it’s all hands on deck. That has contributed to an amazing learning experience for me. I’m using new skill sets, getting a taste of inpatient care … and the teamwork, camaraderie, networking. In a weird way, this is an exciting time — it feels magical, in a way, and it’s new every day.”

Celia also noted that the medical profession as a whole has been learning a lot throughout the course of this emergency.

“The protocols have changed,” she said. “Some things that we thought would work, didn’t — but that opens the door to new treatments that we are developing and running through trials.”

All the while, Celia said, she is still treating some of her neurofibromatosis patients.

“I’m covering my clinic remotely,” she said, “and the doctor has been using telemedicine to treat remotely, too. Telemedicine has been an invaluable commodity during this challenging time, and undoubtedly will play an expanded role in healthcare delivery going forward.”