Frontline Nurse Reflects On State Of Pandemic After Being Featured In WKAR Documentary

Jun 9, 2021

In 2020, we introduced you to a nurse on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rhonda Lee was the focus of the WKAR documentary, "COVID Diaries: On The Front Line."

On Wednesday, WKAR-TV will reair the documentary. Following the show, WKAR's Al Martin speaks with Lee about her reflections on the past year of the pandemic and changing ideas about race relations in the country.  

WKAR's Sophia Saliby recently spoke with Lee ahead of the special.

Interview Highlights

On What's Changed Since Our Last Conversation In September

We have started traveling. We're double vaccinated. We still wear our masks, but we actually just got back from Las Vegas. We started traveling, and in Vegas, things are pretty much pre-pandemic. You wouldn't even know we were in a pandemic, but we felt more comfortable being double vaccinated, you know, along with our masks.

On What It's Like To Rewatch The Documentary

It kind of made me sad of how I was dancing with my wife, but I had my mask on, like that was a major thing, because we were very affectionate toward each other and how I had to be apart from her. So, that has changed tremendously, and I'm so glad that things are back to normal within our household.

On Why People, Especially Michigan's African American Population, Should Get Vaccinated

I just want to reach out to the African American community, because they seem like the ones that are the least getting vaccinated because of trust issues and so forth. And just say, you know, everybody's getting vaccinated. There's not a separate vaccination for African Americans than there is for for other people. And we just need to go ahead and trust and get the vaccine, because it's making things better. And if you look at the effects that it's had on people, it really hasn't been bad.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

Last year, we introduced you to one nurse who was on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rhonda Lee was the focus of the WKAR documentary, "COVID Diaries: On The Front Line."

Tonight on WKAR-TV, you can rewatch the documentary and then after, our own Al Martin will speak to Lee about her reflections on the past year of the pandemic and changing ideas about race relations in the country.

I also talked to Lee recently ahead of the special. I started by asking her what’s changed about her job since vaccinations became widely available in the state.

Rhonda Lee: We're still having the same practices, but my job, in general, has changed. I'm working in telehealth now. So, I still work as a homecare nurse, but I don't see patients as much, because I do more working from home and checking vitals rather than actually going into the field.

There's not as much of a risk that I had previously with my family and possibly giving them COVID from my job.

So, that's a big change because then there's not as much of a risk that I had previously with my family and possibly giving them COVID from my job. So, that makes me more comfortable.

Saliby: And that was something we talked about how the pandemic had impacted the time you were able to spend with family. You mentioned how you were having to sleep in a separate room from your wife to keep her safe. Have things started to go back to normal for you, both with kind of this job change, but also kind of the state of things now?

Lee: Things have changed so much. So, I'm back in the bedroom. That was our dance room originally, then it was my bedroom [and], now it's my office. And she works from home too, so the two extra rooms we have is her office and my office.

And we have started traveling. We're double vaccinated. We still wear our masks, but we actually just got back from Las Vegas. We started traveling, and in Vegas, things are pretty much pre-pandemic. You wouldn't even know we were in a pandemic, but we felt more comfortable being double vaccinated, you know, along with our masks.

Saliby: And by double vaccinated, you mean you've gotten both shots of one vaccine, right?

Lee: Yeah, we both got the Pfizer.

Saliby: Have you had time in this crazy year to reflect on where we've been and where we're going, or had time to rewatch the documentary recently?

I'm so glad that things are back to normal within our household.

Lee: I actually did watch some of the documentary the other day. I was doing something, and I was watching parts of it. It kind of made me sad of how I was dancing with my wife, but I had my mask on, like that was a major thing, because we were very affectionate toward each other and how I had to be apart from her.

So, that has changed tremendously, and I'm so glad that things are back to normal within our household.

RELATED: WKAR Documentary Follows Essential Healthcare Worker Through COVID-19 Pandemic

Saliby: When it comes to, you know, working in health care, obviously, most people listening to this conversation don't see what it's like to be on the frontlines of this thing. And your job has slightly shifted with going to telehealth, but what is kind of talking to you and talking to your friends, who might also work in the industry, do things seem better? Are things as stressful as they were last March, last summer [or] last September when we last talked?

Lee: I would have to say things have changed so much. They're not as bad, and it's because we know more about the disease now. It's not like it was before where every day, we were learning something new, learning something new. We kind of have it under our belt, and we kind of know what things it affects and we have a vaccine.

I feel like the last time we spoke, we were still getting information, so it's kind of scary to be out there and you're still getting information about the disease.

So, those things are a lot better, and a lot of my friends and stuff that have had both their vaccines have started back traveling, started back, you know, inviting people over. Even my coworkers, they're a lot more comfortable with going out and seeing patients, because we know a lot more about it.

I feel like the last time we spoke, we were still getting information, so it's kind of scary to be out there and you're still getting information about the disease, and you know, you're out there with just a mask like you don't know what else it affects.

Saliby: In September, I asked you what you hope people learn from watching your story. You said you wanted folks to think about other people and be more compassionate during this time.

Does that still stand for you? Or do you have anything else you want people to know about the work frontline health care workers are doing during this pandemic?

Lee: I still kind of stand with that if people could just....because there....we are vaccinated. A lot of us are vaccinated, and I mean, while I have the opportunity, I just want to reach out to the African American community, because they seem like the ones that are the least getting vaccinated because of trust issues and so forth. And just say, you know, everybody's getting vaccinated.

There's not a separate vaccination for African Americans than there is for for other people. And we just need to go ahead and trust and get the vaccine, because it's making things better. And if you look at the effects that it's had on people, it really hasn't been bad.

Yes, there's been some people that's had effects, but people have had effects from Tylenol. People have gotten pregnant that were on birth control. It happens. But for the most part, there really hasn't been that many reactions. So anybody that has not been vaccinated, I urge you to go out and get vaccinated.

Saliby: Rhonda Lee is a nurse here in Michigan. She's also the focus of the WKAR documentary, "COVID Diaries: On The Front Line." Thank you for joining me.

Lee: No problem. Thank you for having me again.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.