He spends his days mopping some of the most dangerous floors in New York City — but every hard shift still fills him with “joy” at being able to help ailing coronavirus patients.
Jhonelly Gil, an emergency room janitor at Bellevue Hospital, gets on his hands and knees seven days a week to clean the blood and urine from the floors of COVID-19 patient rooms to keep medical staff safe from coronavirus.
“It’s stressful seeing people on machines, you know, so sick and and how dangerous the disease is, you know, you have to be extra careful,” said Gil, 33, an 11-year veteran of Bellevue. “But I try not to think about it too much because, you know, I don’t want to mentally break down and not be able to get the job done.”
Despite the sight of patients with tubes and sheet-wrapped bodies, Gil says the pandemic has made him strong enough to feel “joy” in cleaning.
“Being helpful is my joy in this situation,” said Gil. “I’m happy to be cleaning those rooms and keeping the area clean to help others overcome this situation and be part of this hospital in this critical time.”
Housekeeping staff has been decimated by daily call outs due to lack of childcare, sickness or fear, so Gil has been working full shifts even when he’s not scheduled.
“The first three weeks it started, I was working straight, no breaks,” said Gil. “I had to clean isolation rooms every 20 minutes. In and out, in and out. I was sweating so much like I was working construction.”
He said every shift feels like a double.
In what was once a loud, frenetic emergency room, there is now only the scratch of his broom and the suck-bump-beep of machines keeping patients alive as Gil does his daily sweeps.
Before the pandemic, emergency patient rooms were cleaned between clients, but now Gil cleans each room in his unit three times a day. He empties the garbage, and cleans the bathrooms with double gloves on. He sprays the rooms down with Virex, and mops the floors. He double-checks everywhere he cleans.
When he finds a moment to take his lunch break, he enters the sanctity of the broom closet to pray for the hospital, and spend “intimate time with God” as he crouches amid jugs of bleach and spray bottles. It’s the only private place left in the hospital.
“I pray a lot. God is my supporter. He fills my soul,” said Gil, who prays for 45 minutes before returning to work. “Otherwise, fear and stress [would’ve taken] me down weeks ago.”
When he returns home, he sprays himself with Lysol before entering the apartment he shares with his girlfriend. They have strictly imposed boundary lines in place and haven’t hugged or kissed in nearly a month because of his job. His greatest worry is to get someone he loves sick after seeing so many die alone daily, so she sleeps in the living room while he takes the bedroom.
Despite the trauma he endures each day working on the frontlines, and the heartbreak he feels being separated from his girlfriend, being vital to his “hospital family” is what gets him out of bed each morning to do it all over again.
“This is my house, and this hospital is my family,” said Gil. “We won’t let this take Bellevue down.”
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