How a Javits Center Vaccine Nurse Spends Her Sundays
‘This job makes me feel like I’m part of history.’,
In early January, Nicole Brienza, a recent nursing school graduate, was looking for work. When she found out about the huge vaccination program that was about to open at the Javits Center, she applied immediately. “Within an hour I got a call,” she said. Three days later she was offered a position there. “This job makes me feel like I’m part of history,” said Ms. Brienza, 24, whose first day at Javits was Jan. 17. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” She lives with her parents, Carmela and Joe Brienza, and her younger brothers, Joey and Johnny, in Whitestone, Queens.
UP AND OUT If I work out, I get up at 4:30 or 5. During Covid, my father turned our basement into a gym. I’ll do a Peloton workout. If I skip that, I’m up at 5:45. I make Starbucks Morning Brew, shower and dress, eat a granola bar or have some oatmeal and leave by 6:10. The 7 train doesn’t really run at the Flushing stop on Sunday, which I sometimes take during the week, so my mother drives me to work.
ENTRY I have my mask on by the time I walk through the entrance. Soldiers make sure we enter six feet apart. Our temperature is checked, and I’m asked the same questions every day: Do I feel sick, have I been to any states where I need to quarantine? I scan my ID, then I put my belongings and my lunch in a locker and take out my goggles.
SET UP I get a face shield, fresh mask and a box of gloves and go to a table. I’m one of approximately 130 nurses at 58 tables. I like the ones in the front best because you do more vaccinations. It takes people longer to walk to the back tables. I sanitize the table and make sure there are boxes of alcohol wipes and Band-Aids. Someone brings us the vaccines. We get six syringes at a time, one injection per person. These have been prepared by the pharmacists, who are also on the floor with us. If it’s a really busy day, they will put two nurses at a table, but usually it’s just me and the data entry person.
JABS I inject 100 to 150 people a day with the Pfizer vaccine. Sundays are the busiest. I spend five to 10 minutes with each person. Everyone is happy, grateful and appreciative. Everyone has thanked me; some have cried. In the morning, they all say how surprised they are that the line moved so fast and wished the airport moved as quickly.
When I started doing this, I was nervous and the conversation was more of a script. Now it flows naturally. I introduce myself, try to lighten the mood, ask how they are, how was it coming into the city and try to help them relax. Then I dive deeper — do they have allergies; if they do, what are their reactions? If they are on their second vaccine I ask how their symptoms were; if it’s their first I tell them what their symptoms might be.
COFFEE BREAK I do my first 15-minute break at 9:30. Javits offers meals if we want them. They also have snacks like bananas, rice cakes, granola bars, tea, coffee and water bottles. It takes two minutes to walk to the cafeteria area downstairs and two minutes back so I’ll sit and have a coffee. Most people are not energetic at this hour. They’re on their phones and it’s a relaxed vibe.
NEW CROWD From 9:45 to 11:30, older people start to come. They get their own line so they don’t have to wait, and they come to the first few rows of tables. I always feel comfortable with them, though I’m afraid of hurting them because they don’t have as much muscle. A lot of people say I’m a pro. Or I have a soft touch. That they didn’t feel the needle. As a new grad, that feels good. Middle-aged people tend to cry more because it’s emotional for them.
QUIET LUNCH I’m at the locker area at 11:30 and get my homemade lunch: a salad or falafel wrap. I heard good things about the Javits food, but I like to know what ingredients are in something I’m eating. I’ve made friends with a lot of people already; some are new grads, some are retired nurses coming back to help. Everyone is friendly. During this time I try to stay quiet and to relax.
BACKUP Noon to 3:30 is more of the same. It’s busier; the line is building up. People dressed in red vests are called “runners.” They’re Army people who go from the pharmacy to pick up the syringes and drop them off at our tables. They do checks constantly. If we are down to two doses we hang a green laminated sheet on a lamp, which is what we turn on when we’re ready for the next patient. You can see the green from far away. If I’m low on gloves, someone is always there to get me supplies. If I need to use the restroom, someone will cover me.
TIME OUT At 3:30, I take another break. I might use the restroom or grab a bottle of water from the break room on the main floor. It saves me the time of going downstairs and coming back up. I’m starting to get tired. I’ll sit in a chair, check my phone, answer texts and look at Instagram.
AFTERNOON RUSH 3:45 to 5 is our busiest time. The line has backed up. People have come later than their appointment time. I haven’t had anyone who isn’t supposed to be here, but a lot of people ask if I can get their spouse an appointment. I feel bad because I can’t. They all know it’s a “no,” but they ask to see if they get lucky.
THE WAIT LIST Out of nowhere it gets slow from 5 to 6:30. The pharmacists are trying to figure out how many syringes they will need. They don’t want to draw up extra, and you only have a six-hour window to use them. If we have extras we call people who are on a wait list to see if they can come down. Those people I give shots to are the most excited because they didn’t expect it. They’ve dropped everything to be here.
COUNTRY MUSIC COMMUTE At 7, I clean up, organize and sanitize the table. I meet so many different people I’m mentally and physically exhausted. My body hurts. I clock out and exit the building the same way I came in. The air is refreshing. I haven’t had any all day. I enjoy the work, but I’ve been on my feet for 12 hours. My mother has parked in the front and is waiting for me. She loves to talk, but I’m talked out so we turn on the radio and listen to country music.
TOO TIRED I’m home by 8. I’m starving at this point. My mother has cooked dinner, and I’m so grateful. I shower and do my face routine. I fall into bed around 9:30. I might watch some Netflix. I just finished “Bridgerton.” Lately I’ve been too tired to do anything else. My friends feel they haven’t seen me. They don’t understand I’m working 12-hour days.