TALES FROM THE FRONT LINE

From L-R: Jon Sugiuchi, J Cagandahan, Diego Montoya

Three registered nurses on dealing with the pandemic and how to tap into some joy and whimsy after such a challenging year

BY DARSEEN  |  PHOTO BY DUSTI CUNNINGHAM

Jon Sugiuchi (He/She/They),
J Cagandahan (She/Her/Hers), and Diego Montoya (He/She/They) are three registered nurses working in Southern California.  In an interview with THE FIGHT they talk about their experiences dealing with the pandemic, their most memorable moments and how to tap into some joy and whimsy after such a challenging year. 

Now that vaccinations are getting amped up—what are the most important issues people should pay attention to and try to understand in the upcoming months? 

Jon: The most important issues to focus on are signing up for the vaccine; continue taking precautions (wearing a mask), and learning to take better care of our health. If we’re able to do that we can move towards a new normal, which would be good for everyone’s mental health. 

J: This time during COVID has really exposed a lot of cracks in our system. I want people to pay attention to the experiences of marginalized communities who have been really affected during this time: BIPOC communities, LGBTQIA+ communities, folks with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, etc. 

“Making healthcare more accessible includes building trust with underserved communities who fear that their concerns are minimized or brushed off because they are not white or wealthy.”

Diego: I feel that one of the most important issues we face in the upcoming months is access to healthcare. This is not a new problem by any means, but we are still so far off from actively having a solution. So many people suffer across America because healthcare has been treated as a privilege rather than a basic human right. That specifically disproportionally affects BIPOC, and we will only continue to see the inequalities in healthcare rise until there is a guarantee that addressing health issues will not cause one to face financial ruin. Let’s also not forget that making healthcare more accessible includes building trust with underserved communities who fear that their concerns are minimized or brushed off because they are not white or wealthy. We all need to come together and fight for major healthcare reform.

You are in the minds and hearts of many people. Do you recall a memory that stands out for you?

Jon: During the pandemic, (beginning, middle and end), a memory that stood out was: the community, such as restaurants, schools, families, police departments, banks, etc had reached out to show their support through sending us letters of appreciation, gift bags, and food. It was nice to feel supported by your community and given food since us, the nurses, love food so much. 

Diego: After I was finally on my own during my first few months of nursing, I had one week where I worked three shifts in a row and got to keep my same patients through the three shifts. One of my patients was this absolute angel of an old woman. I spent those three days giving her all the attention I could because she was so kind and was having a difficult time with most everything. Every time I would go to clean her up or help her eat, she would just look at me and apologize for the fact that I had to do this. I kept reassuring her that she didn’t need to be sorry, that I was happy to be able to help her and that’s what nursing was about. Her condition was very complex, and it became clear to her family over the course of these three days that she was not going to be able to recover so they decided to request hospice services. On my final day with her, I knew it would be the last time I would see her because the next day she would be going to hospice—at the end of my shift I went in to say a more personal goodbye, and she said something to be that I cannot think about to this day without crying. She grabbed my hand and told me, “You have been so wonderful to me, and I am so lucky to have been able to spend these last few days of my life with you.” I held it together for a few moments after that while her family thanked me for all I had done, and I then immediately left the room to go cry in the break room. If I ever question why I’m doing what I’m doing, I just think about her and keep on moving forward.

What is the first thing you are planning on doing once we are allowed to gather in large groups?

Jon: The first thing I plan on doing once we are allowed to gather in large groups is appreciate human-touch and interaction more (the hugs), be forward and direct with telling others about your love and admiration for them, and to dance.

J: I wanna be back in the roller rink on queer night.

Diego: I am absolutely going to bring a whole crew out to see a show at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater. I have been talking about the Bob Baker Marionettes almost unyieldingly for the whole pandemic and I have so many friends who are waiting to be able to experience it. It is the perfect activity to tap into some joy and whimsy after such a challenging year.