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U.S. News

Virginia nurse lives on boat while helping New York battle the pandemic

NEW YORK (Reuters) - By night, nurse Rachel Hartley is on the front line of the war against the coronavirus. By day, she rests on the sailboat that brought her from Virginia, wondering how she will explain it all to her children someday.

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Hartley, 26, was among the many thousands of medical professionals from around the country who dropped what they were doing and came to New York as a surge in COVID-19 cases was threatening to overwhelm city hospitals.

“It’s been incredible just to see that unity from across our nation of people coming to fight this disease,” she said.

But unlike most of the city’s out-of-state medical allies, Hartley and her husband, photographer Taylor Hartley, brought their own living quarters: their 50-foot (15 m) sailboat, Turning Points.

Her current sea-land routine is a far cry from the life the Columbus, Ohio, native had two months ago in landlocked Lynchburg, where she worked as an anesthesia prepping nurse.

The virus canceled many of the elective surgeries at Hartley’s hospital, leaving her with little to do.

She and her husband weighed their options, considered their health and prayed. Next, Hartley quit her job and the two made the 250-mile (402 km) sail in mid-April that brought them to New York 35 hours later, where a Brooklyn marina gave them a free docking slot.

“And I’m seeing New York City just being ransacked by the virus,” said Hartley, who had previously worked as an intensive care nurse.

At work on her overnight shifts at NYU Langone Hospital, Hartley said she encountered sickness like she had never seen. With morgue trucks parked outside, Hartley sometimes held the hands of patients as they died.

“That’s something that I - I never want to do that again, and I never thought I would as a nurse,” she said.

Back on Turning Points, Hartley rests, reflects and keeps a journal she hopes to share one day with her children.

“It’s been really special to be able to be in the center of everything and serve on the front lines,” she said.

Reporting by Catherine Koppel; Writing by Peter Szekely; Editing by Dan Grebler

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