After 16 years of caring for patients at the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, 61-year-old charge nurse Celia Marcos died after racing to save the life of a COVID-positive, ‘code blue’ patient.
On the night of April 3, a COVID-positive patient was admitted to Marcos’s floor. Two hours later, Marcos noticed the patient had stopped breathing, and—with her only protection being a thin, surgical mask—she did not waste time or hesitate before racing into the room to begin CPR.
Little did Marcos know, at this point, she was in a race against time. Fourteen days later, Marcos was dead.
Marcos “knew the chest compressions and other breathing treatments the patient needed would likely spew dangerous virus particles into the air that could land on her face and clothing,” and that, “she would be at high risk of catching the coronavirus,” writes Soumya Karlamangla from the LA Times.
“She’s the type of person who in an emergency you can really count on,” said one colleague, who spoke to the Times under the condition of anonymity after expressing fear of retaliation from hospital administrators. “She’s the calm that we can look to in order to get through.”
Marcos is one of at least 36 other health care workers who have died due to COVID-19 complications, and her death has prompted a larger critical conversation on the Trump administration’s inability to provide the PPE health care workers—disproportionately women—still desperately need.
Two May 12 LA Times letters to the editor read:
“The death of nurse Celia Marcos, who rushed to resuscitate a COVID-19 patient despite not having ready access to an N95 mask, should not have happened.
“Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, we had the opportunity for a nationally managed process to provide protective equipment to all healthcare workers. The president had the power to make this happen, but he let an important opportunity pass him by.
“No amount of denial or distraction by the president will change the facts. It was clear these masks were needed. ….
“Our president cares about the economy, the stock market and getting reelected. Does anyone think he cares about working people?
“Shame on our healthcare facilities for putting workers’ lives at risk, and shame on President Trump for not taking control of the supply line in January when he was told of the coming pandemic.”
“Known for her sweet nature and ability to heal rifts and remain cool-headed, no matter the situation,” Marcos began working at the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in 2004 after immigrating from the Philippines with her family, where she had trained to be a nurse. According to her sons, being a health care worker was her lifelong dream.
While on one side we can see that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a resurgence in appreciation for health care workers and their dedication to the job, it has also highlighted the realities of the dangers they face in order to keep their patients safe. It’s important not romanticize Marcos’s death and treat as a martyr, but rather to call attention to these tragic losses and the demand that health care workers be provided with the proper tools needed to perform their jobs.
“The hospital wasn’t giving us appropriate PPE—the N95s were locked,” said another nurse, who spoke to the LA Times under the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. “It’s just too painful for everybody, what happened to her.”
The nurses’ union SEIU 121RN has filed a complaint with the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration, calling Marcos’ death “the result of inadequate PPE provided to staff.” The union has also alleged—in a separate complaint—that Marcos had received substandard treatment after becoming a patient at the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center.
While lying in her hospital bed, surrounded by the colleagues and peers who became her caretakers, Marcos admitted: “I don’t want to die.” This is a fate that no health care worker should ever face—but due to inadequacies in health care infrastructures, selfless individuals like Marcos are laying their lives on the line every day just to keep safe those of their patients.
Rest in power, Celia Marcos.