Nurse Jessie Austin goes above & beyond

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Photo by Evan Austin
Nurse Jessie Austin of Ojai speaks to her four children from the window of her donated RV. The children, from left, are Catalina, 9, Abigail, 17, Arlo, 5 on May 11, and Noa, 12.


Marianne Ratcliff, Ojai Valley News editor
Jessie Austin of Ojai is a nurse and a mom.
So, during Nurses Appreciation Week and right before Mother’s Day seems the perfect time to share Austin’s unique and inspiring story during the pandemic.
Jessie and her husband, Evan, are the parents of four children — three daughters, Abigail, 17, Noa, 12, 
Catalina, 9, and son Arlo, who will turn 5 on May 11.
Evan Austin sent a photograph of his wife talking with their children from a donated RV parked in her driveway, so the Ojai Valley News wanted to find out the extraordinary steps this nurse and mom is taking to care for, and protect, her family and her patients.
Evan has not decided how to celebrate Mother’s Day and his son’s upcoming birthday yet, but imagines he will barbecue and the family will gather outside 6 feet apart, as usual.
“I know that her sense of responsibility to the community is huge,” Evan said. “She has always taken her responsibility to the community seriously.” When it came to the pandemic, he said she realized that for herself and her colleagues, “this was their moment.”


Jessie works long night shifts, so her schedule and her family’s are different, but they have time in the morning and the evenings to visit. Evan said his wife reads to each of her children separately each day.
Evan said the decision for Jessie to physically distance from her family was a hard one that they discussed at length. For now, he said they are likely to continue with Jessie staying in the RV through May.
Because of Jessie’s schedule, the Ojai Valley News sent her questions via email to answer, which we have included, in part, here.
Q: What motivates you to make the sacrifices you and your family are making? 
Never in my life would I have thought that not just our city, not our county, not our state, not our country, but the entire world would be faced with such a challenge. I have always felt called to public service, it runs in my family, so nursing was a natural choice for me. Whether or not I would serve during this pandemic was never a question in my mind. I am a nurse, I am a good nurse. I have the skills and tools to do this job and help my community. My family is well aware of how important my job is to me, and they understand that sometimes that means I and they have to make sacrifices. When the Thomas Fire came, it was the firefighters who had to step up, and I will be eternally grateful that they did. Now it’s my turn. 
Q: What do you tell your family about your work? 
A: I tell them that I wish I could spend all of my time with them, but that I love my job, too, and it’s important for me to be able to do it to support my family and to help people. 


Q: How important is it that people take the guidance on COVID-19 seriously? 
A: It is absolutely without a doubt the single most important thing the general public can do. The general public can't do my job, they can't develop a vaccine, or manufacture test kits. What they can do is listen to the scientists who are studying this and follow their directives as much as they possibly can. Stay home, stay well, stay safe. If they can do that, I can continue to do my job to serve people in case of emergency. 
Q: When did you realize this COVID-19 was going to impact yours and everyone's lives? 
A: think I realized this was going to impact our lives significantly when the virus became out of control in Italy. I read multiple accounts from healthcare workers there and I became very concerned about the potential for our healthcare system to become overwhelmed and for me to be at risk of contracting or bringing the virus home. 
Q: When did you make the decision to live outside of your house? 
A: I have never been particularly concerned about bringing germs home from work. I'm very fortunate that neither my husband, myself or any of our children have any major health problems. But when we first began to see potential COVID patients in the ER, and I followed the news about the number and type of people that were getting sick, I decided I needed to take this particular situation more seriously. I began coming into my house through the back door, stripping off everything I had on and putting it all directly into the washing machine, including my shoes. I would then walk straight to the shower and wash from head to toe before I would allow anyone in my family to touch me. Since so little is known about COVID and how it is transmitted, I was worried that I could transmit it before becoming symptomatic, or that I might be an asymptomatic carrier. When I saw that a Facebook group was being organized to match nurses with people who would donate a trailer for me to stay in, I jumped at the chance to be able to live near my family but keep a safe distance.  My husband and I talked about it, and we decided that if I was able to get a trailer, I would move in to it to keep the germs away from our home. I was fortunate to be paired with Net from Coyote RV Rentals within a few days of requesting a trailer. He came the next day and set the trailer up at my house and taught me how to use it. I spent the next week slowly moving my belongings in and preparing my children for me being gone. 


Q: How did your family agree on it? 
A: My husband and I explained to our children why it was important for me to isolate away from them.  We gave them the opportunity to ask questions and made sure they understood it was temporary and was for their safety.  We also assured them that I would still be able to see them and that some of our regular routines, like reading together, would still be able to happen. 
Q: Do you always have to stay 6 feet apart? 
A: Yes. When I sit out in our yard, I always make sure I'm at least 6 feet away from anyone. Since there is a chance I could transmit the virus with coughing or sneezing, its important to maintain that distance.  I also ask that the kids not touch the door handle to the trailer and I have a chair that only I sit in when we are together so they aren't coming in contact with the things I touch. 
Q: What are your long shifts like? Are you working more hours? 
A: I work 12 hour shifts, from 7 p.m. to 7am. Normally, I work three shifts a week, but right now I am working 5 shifts. I took on extra because my husband and my father, who are business partners at Ashly Piano Crafts, are unable to work. My shifts have been stressful. Our patient volume is down, but the patients we do see require a higher level of care and are very time consuming. Everyone is worried about the virus, since we still know little about how it is transmitted and how long it’s contagious. We are also overwhelmed with information that is constantly changing as more is learned about the virus. 


Q: How do you deal with being physically apart from your family? 
A: Mostly by immersing myself in work. I am also reading and watching movies and shows in my trailer. Anytime I am able, I am either in the yard watching my kids play or talking to them, or watching them through my trailer window. I have maintained reading with them almost every evening before I leave for work  My son usually comes out in the front yard in the morning and knocks on the side of the camper to let me know he's there, so I can open my window and talk to him. I think this has been hardest on him, since he is only four and doesn't completely understand why we need to be separated. His fifth birthday is coming up and I'm super sad I won't be able to give him birthday hugs all day. We will celebrate together from a distance, and I hope he will still have a happy birthday. Even though it is extremely difficulty to be physically apart from them, I have an incredible network of support and cheerleaders that keep my spirits up. I have friends that text me daily to give me a boost, people writing me letters and sending cards and flowers, my children giving me art to display in my trailer, and my church community hiring an electrician to come wire my house so I could run the AC in the trailer (it gets pretty hot trying to sleep during the day.) Another friend heard that my laptop had stopped working and had one sent to me. 
The generosity of my friends and community is overwhelming. 


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