Pandemic calls OR nurse ‘home’ from Japan

Caption
Brianna Masci-Alvarez, BSN, RN, had been living in Japan about six months when the pandemic began.She and her husband spent their honeymoon there, and the two decided to extend their adventure.While there, Masci-Alvarez taught English. Her skills calming children during stressful times came in handy.But she quickly realized their adventure had to end so she could return "home" and put her skills to work."Home" for Masci-Alvarez is Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, where she works in the operating room

Becoming a nurse was a natural decision for Brianna Masci-Alvarez. After all, both her parents were nurses.

“My mom has done a little bit of everything, and my dad has done a lot of emergency room work. In fact, he used to be a nurse in the emergency room at Egleston,” said Masci-Alvarez, BSN, RN, who is an operating room nurse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. “So my brain has always sort of worked in that way. And as a family we’ve always valued taking care of others and helping others.”

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Brianna Masci-Alvarez was living in Japan when the pandemic began.
Caption
Brianna Masci-Alvarez was living in Japan when the pandemic began.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Brianna Masci-Alvarez

Credit: Photo courtesy of Brianna Masci-Alvarez

“Helping others” is what called her home from Japan once it became obvious the coronavirus pandemic was getting worse and going global.

Masci-Alvarez and her husband, J.T., had moved to Nagoya, Japan, “pursuing adventure,” she said, adding, “My husband and I had a really amazing honeymoon over there, and we decided to just take the chance and explore it a little longer.”

Although she didn’t work as a nurse while there, Masci-Alvarez was able to use skills she’d learned in that profession while teaching English to children.

“As nurses we spend a good bit of time teaching and educating, and I found the thing I benefited from the best was that I already knew how to de-escalate stressful situations with kids. So I was really good with classes of toddlers and helping with that separation anxiety from mom and dad.”

Things were going great, and then … “oh, man,” she said.

”I remember first hearing about the pandemic, I guess the disease itself, maybe in November or December (2019),” Masci-Alvarez said. “I remember being a little worried, but thought, you know, we lived through swine flu, and we lived through all these other things. We’ll be OK.”

But things weren’t getting better.

“At the very end of February (2020), I saw a report about someone who had been reinfected and saw reports about how things were just going crazy in Korea.”

At this point, a lot of her students had stopped coming to classes, and it had become difficult to find masks, hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

“It just kept looking scarier and scarier, and I remember feeling really, really powerless,” she said. “I’m on the other side of the world, and all these situations seem to be changing very quickly. And I’ve got a skill set to deal with it, but it’s not going to help in a country where I don’t speak the language very well.

“It was one of those moments where I thought, ‘OK, this is kind of an extended vacation, but it’s time to get back to my duty. It’s time to get back to what I committed to doing, what I chose to do.’ If things are going to be scary and challenging, I wanted to be helping people, and I wanted to be home. Children’s is home for me.”

Fortunately, she said, she had been in touch via Facebook with her manager at Children’s, where she’d worked for three years before moving to Japan.

“So I reached out to her, like, ‘Hey, I’m not really doing any good over here. I think I could do some more good back over there. Do you guys have a place for me?’ "

Almost immediately, her manager replied: “Yes. Come on back.”

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Everything moved quickly from there. Masci-Alvarez and her husband began looking at flights back to Atlanta and realized the airport near them was going to shut down soon.

“It went from ‘OK, we need to move soon’ to ‘OK, we need to move in eight days,’” she said. “No notice. No ability to really ship our things. Nothing. We had to sell what we could, pack what we could and get it figured out.”

Brianna and J.T. Masci-Alvarez say goodbye to their apartment in Japan.
Caption
Brianna and J.T. Masci-Alvarez say goodbye to their apartment in Japan.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Brianna Masci-Alvarez

Credit: Photo courtesy of Brianna Masci-Alvarez

After six months in Nagoya, the couple returned to Atlanta and Masci-Alvarez rejoined the team at Egleston.

“We had a staffing shortage, so I volunteered to flip my life completely upside down and start working nights,” she said. “They didn’t have any way to cover those, and at night is when we need our OR nurses the most, because that’s when people will come in for unscheduled emergencies and things.

“I’ve been doing the operating room for quite a while. I’m flexible. I’m adaptable. And so I thought that jumping in and putting myself in that place where I could take care of emergencies would give me the opportunity to make a difference and keep my brain engaged, to keep learning.”

Brianna Masci-Alvarez, BSN, RN, and Melanie Norman, RN, CNOR, at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.
Caption
Brianna Masci-Alvarez, BSN, RN, and Melanie Norman, RN, CNOR, at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.

Credit: photo courtesy of Brianna Masci-Alvarez

Credit: photo courtesy of Brianna Masci-Alvarez

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Masci-Alvarez also thought being back in the operating room would give her the opportunity to do more ECMO procedures. ECMO stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation and can be a last-ditch effort for someone having heart or lung problems.

“For me, that felt important with the pandemic,” she said. “We didn’t know what the situation would be going in to the colder months, because we always had kids with the flu going on it. So, I thought, this is a skill set I have, this is a way that I can do it.”

What about returning to Japan?

“I’ve thought about it,” she said. “But I think, overall, being that far away made me realize I really do like being close to the people I love. I’ve always been very fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing support network. My parents are wonderful. My friends … there’s a small community of nerds I’ve been friends with for the better part of a decade. Being away from them took a bigger toll than I thought.”

Masci-Alvarez can’t say enough good things about the people at Egleston.

“Egleston people are resilient. Egleston people work together. My operating room is an awesome team, and it’s really cool to be able to lean on everybody,” she said.