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Memorializing South Texas’ fight against COVID-19

Unveiling of memorial wall
Matthew Brooks and Gabriella Flores remove the cover to unveil a portion of the memorial wall. Photo credit: Joseph Greiner, Public Affairs Specialist – TCF Intern

On what appeared to be a normal Friday morning on April 22, there was a somber, quiet calmness that spread throughout the fifth floor at Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital.

And in the quietness, those gathered were able to witness the unveiling of the COVID-19 memorial wall.

Jason Gray, Chief of Center for Development and Civic Engagement began the ceremony by reminding attendees of why this is necessary. To dedicate this space to our staff, solely focused on staff throughout the COVID pandemic.

“Staff just did their job; they did it without question. They did it to the best of their ability and provided that excellent health care that we’re well known for. And I think that sums up what our staff did, that uncommon valor was a common virtue around here.”

Matthew Brooks, a Registered Nurse on Unit 5A at Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital, began working at South Texas during the first COVID-19 surge, and shared with all in attendance that he vividly remembers all those who he cared for.

“When you look into your patient’s eyes, you see someone familiar. You can see your mother, your father, your partner, or even your children,” he said. “And you can’t help but put your entire part into what they need. If it was a hug, you gave them the best hug you possible could because in that moment, their isolated. They’re separated from everyone they know except for you. You are their partner, their father, their mother, their child. You’re them because you’re isolated too.”

Caring for their patients with as much love as they could possibly hope that they would receive one day, nurses banded together and gave more of themselves than thought possible.

“Knowing that we were in it together for the same purpose: saving a life, caring for a life, letting someone know that they’re still alive. And to be there for them and experience that life with them,” Brooks shared.

Since March 26, 2020, when South Texas received its first COVID-19 patient, 6,278 Veterans and civilians alike were cared for by South Texas staff. Dr. Douglas Boyer, Acting Deputy Chief of Staff highlighted the importance that as we continue the mission, we must reach out to each other.

“Take heart in the fact that we are in a place that we can make a difference for the patients in this pandemic,” he said, “take heart that those that you have helped on the journey, whether or not it’s been a journey to their healing, a journey to help with some of the spiritual wounds they may carry, or maybe helping in the last few steps of their life. Take heart to reflect on those arms are also reaching out to you and helping to prop you up.”

Understanding firsthand the toll this pandemic has placed on our nurses, Dr. Valerie Rodriguez-Yu, Associate Director for Patient Care Services emphasized that this memorial wall is more than just about reflecting.

“I want you to see yourselves; I want you to see that we see you, that we value you, and that you have made a difference in the lives of so many Veterans.”

Dr. Rodriguez-Yu highlighted the significance of all employees, from Environmental Management Service employees to facilities, all played a crucial role while ensuring optimal health was maintained while in the COVID units.

“As our staff walk by it, I want you to see yourselves and see what you have done over the last two years. And for our Veterans, my hope is that when they see this, they see that we have them, that we are here, that we are dedicated for them and that we will always ensure that we provide the very best care to our nation’s heroes.”

Bringing the ceremony to a close, Medical Center Director/CEO, Christopher Sandles epitomized that reflecting on those we’ve saved, those we’ve lost, and what we’ve accomplished together is just as important as looking to the future.

“We want to make sure that we take that time to remember what we’ve been through and what we have all accomplished as individuals and really appreciate all the discussion on teams and how much we relied on each other,” he said. “It really does require all of us coming together and as a team to work through those moments.”

Reflecting back on struggling through the Texas summer heat as a youth playing football, one coach’s remarks have always rung true: Heat and pressure creates one of two things: It creates diamonds or dust. And it’s up to you and your team to figure out which one you are.

“I’ll tell you, what I’ve seen in South Texas is that we’ve got a lot of diamonds here. I appreciate you all very much,” he shared.

A true reflection of unity, Brooks illustrated that this memorial wall symbolizes that we have come so far, both as individuals, and together.

“My biggest take away from the COVID pandemic is to remember that you’re never alone in it. That you’ll always have someone and you’ll always have yourself. And that you can get through it, so long as you try.”

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