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Sabra Isimbi: Conversation Transcript


Dydine: Hello, this is Alex & Dydine doing our community conversation. We're back again. It's been a while.

Alex:  It has been a little bit a few months. But we're back and we're very excited to engage with the Baserange community yet again.

Dydine: Yeah, it's been a few months. So, today, we have a special guest and she's from Rwanda. She's been my childhood friend since we were like 12 years old, and she's a nurse. She will be talking to us about her experiences during Covid as a covid first responder. And, you know, we've been going through a lot with this COVID, and all over the world, so many emotions. So we're lucky that she said Yes. 

Dydine: Hi, everyone, please tell us where you are, your names, your thoughts, and your questions. 

Alex: Yeah, and if you do have any questions for us or Sabra, as always, make sure you type them either in the chat below or I think there's a little question box that we will get to. But yeah, we'll look for Sabra and invite her in. But yeah, she does have a lot of insight into sort of her own experiences with navigating COVID and, you know, it's been challenging, as you said Dydine but absolutely rewarding. Not only have people like Sabra, nurses who are dedicated to helping out but you know, to conversate with them and make sure that they're good; they are humans too and they need attention as well.

Dydine: Yes, absolutely. And you know, as we always do, we like to support a non-profit during this community conversation, World Refugee Crisis all over the world, so we are supporting Doctors Without Borders and If there’s something you want to do to support, please go ahead and support them because they are doing incredible work. So we're waiting on Sabra to join.

So, how are you all doing? 

Alex: I'm assuming great? Fantastic. This is probably late for a lot of people because we're in Los Angeles and it’s 1 pm in the afternoon but for a lot of people I think it’s like nighttime. 

Dydine: Yes. I think Europe, Africa, and Asia, it’s nighttime as well.

Dydine: Hi Sabra, oh, here you are.

Sabra: Hello.

Alex:  Hello Sabra? How are you? 

Sabra: I'm good. How are you?

Alex: We're doing well.

Dydine: It's your first time doing a live Instagram, right?

Sabra: I know, right? No pressure at all.

Alex: The Baserange Community love people who tell their stories and their experience. Yeah, thank you so much for joining us and giving us your time.

Sabra: Yeah. Happy to be here. 

Alex: We briefly kind of mentioned about your work with nursing, you know, helping people sort of navigating this COVID thing last two years. Can you kind of talk to us sort of out there began in terms of like what inspired you? What was that journey like for you?

Sabra: Well, it’s a long story!

Dydine: It’s ok, we’re ready.

Sabra: I didn't know that I was gonna work in healthcare ever. I'd never thought about it. And I came to the United States 10 years ago and the first job I got was in healthcare. And the more I did it, the more I loved doing it and wanted to do more, I was a nursing assistant, so what put a stamp on it was when my mom was sick. And I saw how much of a difference it makes when you have really good people taking care of you. That's how I decided to join. And then I went to college and I fell in love with nursing, even more, you know, learning about the body, how it works, how to heal it. All that was so interesting to me. So I decided to pursue it.

Dydine: Yeah, I remember when you decided to pursue it how excited you were and for me, don’t take this the wrong way, but I despise being in a hospital.  Going to the hospital is like depressing for me and it’s just like, for you to have been with your mom, seeing her experiences, and the people that were taking care of you and inspired you to do this. I wonder if it sometimes gets too much for you.

Sabra: I have my days but mostly it's good.

Dydine: Mostly. It's good? So, how was it for you during the COVID because there was a lot of, I feel like I don't know if this is true or not, but I feel like there was a lot of death in the hospitals that you guys have experienced? How was it for you? Because I know you traveled around the country. Like you've seen it. We were hiding in the house you know and you were just out there all the time. How was it for you?

Sabra: It was pretty scary when we first started. We were converting all the floors into COVID units and had a four-hour Crash Course about how COVID works and how to take care of these people. We had no idea what to expect. And we were really afraid of the unknown. Really and we didn't have enough PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) you know mask and stuff for personal protective equipment. We had to reuse those so many times, afraid of going home and passing that COVID to your family members that was even scarier. And then came treating people, and the way the disease was progressing rapidly and you would get an almost healthy patient at the beginning of your shift, And by the end of your shift, they would die or even, you know, intubated on a ventilator. So it was pretty scary for us.

Alex: And also, like you mentioned the unknown, like, in those early days, There was seemingly new information, like by the hour, sometimes where you're like, we treat it this way, never mind, treat it this way. Like, a lot of just trying to keep up, keeping your head above water.

Sabra: Yeah, it was pretty hard.

Dydine: I was thinking about, you know, you guys who didn't have enough PPE and you had to

reuse it. Were you scared that you might get it because you'll be using the same? 

Sabra: Absolutely. We were most exposed, and it was very scary. You would get home and take off your clothes before you even enter the house and have to put all your stuff in a bag. And then taking a shower before greeting anyone because we just didn’t know.

Dydine: Yeah. How is it now? because it's slowing down I guess?

Sabra: it's very much better, people are getting vaccinated, cases are going down, fewer people are being hospitalized so you can see the difference after two years.

Dydine: Yeah, that's really challenging. 

Alex: But it shows and I'm sure people have told you this, but it takes a lot of strength and bravery to sort of get through. Like mentally, I can only imagine how taxing that can be day after day not knowing you know, the right way or the best way to get through this. Like the amount of strength that it takes you to carry on and be like, we're gonna do our best. You know, we are one of the key people to sort of, you know, remedy the situation and find a way out of it.

Sabra: Yeah, absolutely. It was very, very scary. People were so afraid first of all, and they would burn out because seeing a lot of people getting sick and dying in front of you, and having to update their families through their phones because they couldn't even come and visit. That was even the hardest part because you would have to update the family throughout the shift. What I decided when I first started during the pandemic was to decide to travel because that gave me a lot of time in between assignments to kind of lean back and stay at home with my family and gain more energy and then go back to it. That's what helped me during the pandemic.

Dydine: I never thought about it because I knew you were traveling a lot working with different hospitals around the country, and I didn't realize you will have some time in between so that you can recover from the first assignment, heal first and then go back. That's really smart because a lot of the time I saw, especially in the news, people in healthcare, who were really stressed. I feel like a lot of them ended up having a lot of anxiety, trauma... 

Alex: According to stories, a lot of people quit. They couldn't take it.

Sabra: A lot of people quit and there was a shortage of nurses everywhere.

Dydine: Did you feel like ah, this is not what I signed up for! You know, at the peak of the pandemic and everything is just going crazy…

Sabra: Of course, we had our days but also you have to think about what if it was you in their place you would want someone to take care of you. That’s what made us go back again and again because someone had to. Even when the pandemic started, they kind of started limiting people to enter the rooms, which means if you were a nurse for that person, you would do everything, all the assessments, everything on that patient so that no one else gets exposed. So that's how they did it so that we can treat more people.

Dydine: I'm so glad we're almost on the other side of this. 

Sabra: Yes, very much. 

Alex: Yeah, would you say that? I don't want to sound too…

Dydine:  dark?

Alex:  So I guess being involved, having seen more than a lot of people., do you feel like we're on the tail end of covid? Do you feel like we are almost at the end of covid?

Sabra: That I'm not sure because you never know. But I feel like it's a lot better than how it was two months ago. So there is hope.

Dydine: On the brighter side, apart from the COVID, the pandemic, and all the dark things that have happened over the last two years, what do you love most about your work? What's like the most, some examples of times you were like, oh my god, I'm so glad that I am in this line of work.

Sabra: There are so many things, the personal connections you make with people on your job, the satisfaction, the feeling that you helped someone get comfortable, and going home feeling like you've made a change to someone’s day, that’s enough for me. I can’t say on the top of my head but..

Dydine: Do you, like, remember your favorite patients? This is just me thinking out loud, like, they go home and you have this…

Sabra: Yeah, every time, every time. I can’t count how many but we get more good people than bad.

Alex: Yeah, I would hope so.

Dydine: I would hope so too. Yeah, reflecting back on covid quickly, as a patient comes in, you have this idea, rapidly everything is changing, and you have so many of them. I wonder if so how many patients you have a day and how much you have to memorize, like people's history, and as their conditions keep changing. 

Sabra: Yes, It's six to eight people’s life details.

Alex: That’s also like it’s a big thing because in my experience of like going to the doctors for like a doctors’ appointment or even the hospital for, cause I have broken a lot of bones in my life, for me, I was never like happy to be there because it was like something is wrong, now I have to get fixed. It’s always been underappreciated, I feel, the ability of a nurse or a doctor to sort of turn the person’s day around, cause they are immediately going into a situation they would prefer not to be in, but to leave it feeling hopeful and feeling better than they did going out or going into it. So, Yeah, that’s a particular skill that I feel people in your field and of course you specifically, you have.

Dydine: cause I feel like when I am going to doctors, am grumpy. I may come back, not grumpy but when am going there, am scared. So you kind of meet them at their worst.

Sabra: Imagine if you were sick and you met someone with an attitude, a nurse with an attitude. How you would feel? even worse.

Alex: Exactly. You might come out of that maybe even feeling or being sicker than you were because like the stress then starts to affect the body. So, kudos to you and all of you for…

Dydine: for staying positive throughout this hardship and helping people. It’s a very fulfilling job, I can imagine.

Sabra: Yup, very much.

Dydine: I am thinking, before you knew you were going into the nursing field, is there something that you wish you knew back then that you know now?

Sabra: Yeah, I think so. In the company aspect of nursing, the one thing that I would say is that the nursing school will never prepare you for how to deal with death. Every death is different. Learn while you do your job how to talk to families, how do you talk to someone that just lost their child or their parent. It’s more than medical, you have to take care of the family and the patient as well. That for me was kind of the hardest part to learn. So having a very good memory is very crucial. When you are taking care of people you have to know everything about them. If a doctor comes and talks to you about this certain patient, you have to be able to answer everything about the patient.

Dydine: I see, yes.

Sabra: Or if, God forbid if you are taking care of a patient and they get worse, you have to call the doctors and all the staff to come and help you. And when they get there, you are the only person they are gonna ask what’s wrong with the patient, what happened? And all that, that is something that you have to know. You can’t just go back to the chart and look it up. Definitely, memory is a big part of it.

Dydine: Now am thinking, going back to covid, like a patient comes in, you have this idea of what they are going through and then rapidly everything changes, and you have so many of them. I wonder like, per nurse, how many patients you get a day and how much you have to memorize of these people’s histories. And the conditions are changing…

Sabra: You will have six on average, but some might go home and you would get another patient so it can vary between six to eight, usually.

Alex: And that’s like six to eight people whose life details that you have to know.

Sabra: Life details that you have to know exactly. Yeah, there are things I thought that I wish I knew. That will mean, well, it's very challenging which means it's physically challenging as well, so your body would hurt when you get home. You would feel like someone has beaten you up.

Dydine: Oh my god. Yes.

Sabra: Yeah, and also your friends asking you for medical a

Dydine: Oh my god. Yes.

Sabra: That was. Yeah. And also your friends ask you for advice, medical advice all the time. 

Dydine: I'm sure. That's me. I do that to her all the time.

Sabra: Everybody does. They think I know everything which is not true. Yeah. And sometimes you might feel underpaid as well. Depending on the day you had, you would be like they don’t pay me enough for this.

Dydine: this. Yeah. Yeah. Because you're caring for people because you care for them and you know this patient you may end up doing more than you get paid for because you care for them and you know what they need! So that's probably, it's a hard line of work. It makes me appreciate you even more.

Sabra: You have to love it to do it. Even if at the end of the day it's challenging you also, love it, you love your job. 

Dydine: Do you ever go home and be like I think I’m quitting?

Sabra: No.

Alex: It sounds like when you have a challenge like at work. Obviously, you're not gonna quit, do you see it as something like how like a puzzle almost you can solve? Like, what's the best way to tackle this issue? Or to overcome this whatever?

Sabra: You are always challenged, critically challenged, so if something happens yeah, it's exactly like a puzzle. You have to, you take it as a learning opportunity for you.

Alex: Yeah, it's not just as static as like, there are human emotions involved, as well. Complex, like, how to talk to people how to empathize with people, like this is not a line of work where you can not be compassionate like you have to have that.

Sabra: It goes with the job, Yes.

Dydine: Yeah. Yes. I'm so grateful that you do what you do. Because we all need more people like you. Because there are a lot of our bodies’ needs that we don't know. So it's always nice to know that there are people who are specialized, especially in it. Yeah, to help the most. Pretty much the most vulnerable, because our bodies can give up so easily. So we appreciate you.

Alex: Yeah. No, I was gonna say, because we were talking this morning, Dydine and I about how the body can you know, through this and you are not necessarily aware of it. Because I just realized, I had an epiphany, this last couple of days about how the mind in stressful moments, your mind can sort of trick your body into thinking that everything is alright, just continue moving forward. You know, I may be feeling these things, but I can sort of compartmentalize, whatever, while your mind is telling you that everything is alright, you know, continue being a soldier whatever, your body is still feeling all of these sensations, like all the stress and all the trauma. Yeah. It's important to, especially with you like I'm very happy to hear that you take time for yourself. Because it can be a stressful job at times. I'm happy that you take time to like, feel your feelings forget all the anxiety and whatever you may feel.

Sabra: Oh yeah, it's very easy to burn out as a healthcare worker in general. And then learn how to cope with it. And also throughout your career you kind of learn how to leave everything at the hospital when you get home. Because you cannot mix them up. You cannot otherwise it will affect you in your daily life. Yeah.

Dydine: Yeah, because I'm thinking if you'd a rough day, and you see people passing and everything, and then go home,  being able to shut it down even like watching the news, you know, especially in the last few years when you watch the news a lot, it really affects your mood. And it's news, it's the news and so I can imagine for you to be there seeing with your own eyes and then being able to shut it down going to bed. What techniques do you use?

Sabra: You learn it throughout your work. Of course, when I first started in the healthcare field because sometimes even on my day off, I would request to go back to work so that I can take care of the patients that I left and I didn’t realize that it was taking a toll on my daily life and learn slowly how to compartmentalize about work and daily life. It’s something that you learn with time.

Dydine: Yeah, but definitely you're not taught that in school.

Sabra: Oh, they won't prepare you for that.

Dydine: Before we let people ask questions we have a few more questions that were asked by whoever's watching, you're welcome to ask Sabra any questions you have, not as your nurse or the way that I do it. 

Alex: Yes, try to ask general questions. 

Dydine: Yeah, you're all welcome to join in. Somebody here asked to join in. So we were wondering what's your nugget of wisdom? For someone who's joining, or who's thinking of doing it? You know, when we're kids, we are like, when I grow up, I want to be a nurse or they're ready to join this line of work. What would be your advice?

Sabra: My nugget of wisdom is that when you get there, never be afraid to ask questions. Knowledge is always power. You get there and feel like you're stupid and you don't know anything but it's always good to ask.

Alex: Yes. Definitely. I feel like it's important to ask as well, like, I was a quieter kid in class. So I was one of those people who were like there may have been like three or four people. Yeah, but in your line of work. The difference between knowing how to treat someone properly and not is asking those questions. I bet that that's very much encouraged. 

Sabra: Oh, Yeah. it's very much. I had and I was very lucky. I got a really good preceptor when I started nursing. And she was a nurse as well. She was kind of teaching me when I first started. And that's the first thing that she told me. She was like, don't feel like there is any stupid question. If you want to ask, just go ahead and ask, that helped me a lot, and even now that I'm experienced, I always ask. You’re dealing with somebody's life in your hands, or you have to put your pride to the side and ask questions…

Dydine: You can never be scared and like chicken out!

Sabra: You have to be willing to learn. 

Dydine: Wow. So that actually goes for any other area of life. Asking questions is really crucial for anything and we're doing it because at times we can forget that we don't know everything. But we always don't know everything and it's okay to not know everything. That's actually even for me in my line of work or anyone who's watching. Just ask questions.

Alex: Stay curious.

Dydine: Yeah, stay curious. I like that. 

Alex: I have a question. It's sort of a traveling question about your travels around the world. You love traveling. Right?

Sabra: I do very much.

Alex: And despite the circumstances that may allow you to travel, you know, in terms of Covid, meeting, work, needing more nurses in different parts of the world, what have you learned about how different people operate within the medical field in different parts of the world? I know it’s kind of a general question but have you learned anything sort of surprising or something that you would love to be able to incorporate into your day-to-day sort of workflow?

Sabra: Um, well, when you travel, like around all the hospitals, is pretty much the same and the people you meet, but you do. You do get different cases and you're able to learn I feel like ever since I started traveling, I learned a lot because after the pressure that I have to know a lot of things and that made me document myself and study even more, and it made me a better nurse.

Dydine: There's something you mentioned about the health care systems in Europe. You weren't working there but you experienced something that I found very interesting. The difference between, like, for example, in the Rwandan healthcare system if you were able to see how the doctors and nurses work or just the system itself, how much expenses make, because going to the doctors here in America, it's expensive. 

Sabra: Yeah. 

Dydine: And you've seen other areas like when you were in Europe a few months ago. And have you liked it when do you ask questions to your friends? Or people that work in the same line of work? Are there things that you were like if we adopted this it would help?

Sabra: Oh, so many, there is a huge difference. Here, here and there. Definitely. I wasn't able to talk to anyone who works in the healthcare field over there. But I talked to people who are there and here we do know that if you are sick, you start thinking about how much you're going to be paying. 

Alex: Right, that's the first thing.

Sabra:  And so that's the first thing to think about. You don't even think about yourself. But um, when I was there, I got a little sick. I had an ear infection, and I had to go to the doctor with a friend of mine who, we didn't even call there. Her doctor showed up and he was able to talk to me within like 15 minutes of me getting there and do a lot of exams where he brought me some antibiotics and I was on my way out. 

Dydine: An ear infection could have cost you a fortune here.

Alex: And also you may have had to wait like two weeks, especially in Los Angeles for like two to three weeks for

Sabra: an appointment holding doctor. You have to call them to get an appointment and that will take you probably two weeks, sometimes even more and you also have to worry about the cost. when I was there[Europe]. Oh, I only paid 12 euros.

Dydine: which like that's about $12. Yeah.

Alex: That’s about 12 US dollars.

Sabra: That's all I paid.

Dydine: You are a foreigner there too, like.

Sabra: Yes. I am a foreigner there and I only paid 12 euros, that was eye-opening for me because of a different story even me and my husband last year when we did our physical yearly for labs, we paid I think $400 and we had insurance.

Alex: Yeah. It's just, it's really interesting to see the differences in how they operate. I've always been fascinated by that.

Sabra: You kinda wish you were there. I kind of wished when I was there that I live there so that I don't have to worry about my health. Yeah, yeah. Especially when you get older. You need more and I've seen so many people at the hospital who were sick and some of the medications were not covered by insurance and they have to pay out of pocket for their retirement. And that's very challenging. You know, it's hard to see when you work.

Dydine:  Was COVID part of the insurance, was it?

Sabra: Yeah, it is part of insurance, but that doesn’t stop the bill when it comes. It's still high.

Dydine: It's still high. This is Yeah, that's a lot of things to think about. Yeah. So, yeah. Am glad that you’re sticking around and helping people and doing all the work that you're doing. I think someone is saying hi to you in the comments. Yeah, and there's someone who wants to join I don't know if they have a question or

Alex: Yeah, let’s type questions, but if anyone has a question, please go ahead and ask. But anyway, those were the questions that we had. I wonder if we left out what you would like to share? 

Sabra: No, not that I can think of. 

Dydine: I'm wondering if it's as you were speaking about how you stayed in even learned how to manage, travel and take time off and take care of your mental health. I wonder if your background just coming from Rwanda and being a genocide survivor, all the things you went through, kind of, I don't know, giving you like a thick skin on navigating these situations. Cause sometimes it's like a tool for me in my life. I wonder if it's something also that kind it becomes like a tool for you. 

Sabra: Absolutely, because, you know, we both came here to this country, we were young and we were by ourselves. That by itself kind of paved the way and now I'm not afraid to go anywhere new. I'm okay because I know that I'm gonna learn throughout. And yeah, that helps me a lot in my trouble. Yeah.

Sabra: I've done it before. I can do it again. Yeah.

Alex: Well, I have one more parting question. I guess you didn’t answer it before. But if you have any pieces of advice and if you have a personal mantra or something that you tell yourself, to sort of uplit yourself. What is that and would you want to share it with people?

Sabra: Personal mantra, you take it as you go? I don’t know.

Alex: It’s ok, a lot of people don’t. It’s kind of general advice.

Sabra: You actually asked me what I need to add on. Well, there is a march here in America for people who are in America on the Washington statue to kind of, there is a peaceful protest for nurses. They're fighting for safe staff ratios and workplace violence against healthcare workers, because they're most likely to get assaulted, physically assaulted at work more than any other job in the US. There were also federal data that showed that in 2018, as 73% of workplace violence, nonfatal workplace violence happened in healthcare. So they're doing in March and they're, they're trying to raise awareness about that so if anyone is available to kind of join us that will be nice.

Dydine: That's actually really important because you guys are with people on a daily basis.  Is the assault from patients?

Sabra: Physical, racial,...

Dydine: Because I know that a lot of guys, especially here in America, black nurses, sometimes experience, I've seen people going into a room to the patient then the patient refuses, saying ‘I don’t want your black face here’ Has it happened to you before?

Sabra: Absolutely. More than once. Yes.

Dydine:  And what do you do with that situation? You just get someone else to take care of them? Oh, Yeah. I'm sorry because you're there to help the person who doesn't want to be helped.

Sabra: If they don't want help from you, you just don't help them and get someone else to help.

Dydine: You always have to have like white nurses nearby to come?

Sabra: Well, when they're not there, they get someone to come in. There was one incident actually that happened with me. and that certain patients wanted a white nurse and there were no white nurses on the floor. We were all black or brown. They had to call another nurse who was at home and she came in and took care of him.

Dydine: Wow, so, can you report that? 

Sabra: You cannot report that, nurses are trying to raise awareness about that because that supposedly comes with a job, and it's not supposed to..

Dydine: It shouldn’t come with the job. That’s horrible. I'm sorry. That you go through that, and definitely, people should be able to join if you're in DC, you can travel from the east coast, you can travel easily from New York to join -joining in solidarity. Even if you're not a nurse, even if you are not in the medical field, that’s a human problem now we have. So thank you so much for sharing that information.

Sabra: Thank you for having me here.

Alex: Of course.

Dydine: We love you, nobody would notice that it's your first time.

Alex: You did great for your first Instagram conversation. I’m sure for everybody who tuned in, I’m sure, I'm sure they learned something, yeah, there may be other nurses in the medical field in the chat. But yeah, people will learn something from what you shared today. Yeah, thanks again for being so open, emotionally vulnerable experiences.

Sabra: Thank you too, bye.

Alex: Thanks everybody for tuning in. We know it’s been a couple months since we tuned in last time, but we thought it was really important to have this conversation today with Sabra and we are so thankful that we are once again able to share this information with everybody. 

Dydine: Thank you so much, we will see you in the next few weeks with another community conversation with Alex&Dydine. Yeah, and if you have suggestions or comments remember to go check out Doctors Without Borders so that you can help them, help heal more people around the world. So, stay tuned! Bye,

Alex: Bye