How former East Lake, UF soccer player Shana Hudson got to COVID-19 front lines in New York

The former Gators captain is working as a nurse in New York during the coronavirus pandemic.
Former East Lake High and Gators soccer player Shana Hudson is a nurse working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City.
Former East Lake High and Gators soccer player Shana Hudson is a nurse working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City. [ Courtesy: Shana Hudson ]
Published April 21, 2020|Updated April 21, 2020

After spending more than two years earning her master’s degree at USF, Shana Hudson was finally ready to start her job as a nurse anesthetist at AdventHealth. All she needed was a start date … which kept getting pushed back as the coronavirus pandemic canceled elective surgeries.

When her mid-March timeline came and went, the East Lake High alumnus and former Florida soccer captain realized she didn’t belong in Tampa.

“If Florida doesn’t need me right now…” Hudson said, “then where am I going to be needed the most? And it was New York City.”

Related: How sports are helping in the coronavirus fight

New York City has been the U.S. epicenter for the COVID-19 crisis; it is responsible for about 10,000 of the nation’s 42,000 confirmed deaths. And for the past two-plus weeks, Hudson has been in the middle of it all, at a hospital with five or six floors dedicated solely to coronavirus patients.

The 33-year-old Palm Harbor native got there through an agency that was looking for nurses like Hudson, who spent two and a half years working at a cardiovascular intensive care unit before attending grad school at USF. Within a few days, she was matched up with a Manhattan facility and on her way — the only passenger on her flight.

Former East Lake High and Gators soccer player Shana Hudson was the only passenger on her flight to New York.
Former East Lake High and Gators soccer player Shana Hudson was the only passenger on her flight to New York. [ Courtesy: Shana Hudson ]

Because nurses were seeing three and four times as many patients as usual, the hospital fast-tracked a one-day orientation to get Hudson on the floor as soon as possible.

“And it’s been stressful every day,” said Hudson, who started her final 63 games at right back and helped the Gators win back-to-back SEC titles in 2006-07. “I’m in an environment that I don’t know the city. I don’t know the staff. You’re trying to learn how the hospital is run while also trying to keep your patients alive.”

She arrived as the pandemic was peaking in New York and walked into conditions she wasn’t used to. Although protective gear is limited, Hudson has enough to cover herself from head to toe. She wears her N95 mask until it is soiled.

The gear, while necessary, adds a layer of stress because it is hot and makes breathing difficult. At the end of her 12-hour shift, her throat is sore. It makes her wonder whether she’s getting sick, too.

Related: Florida State lineman Andrew Boselli details coronavirus recovery

Because of how contagious and dangerous the virus is, nurses can’t enter rooms as much as they normally would. Patients’ families can’t be there, either, putting more emotional responsibilities on Hudson and her colleagues.

Patients have to say goodbye to their families before being intubated. Families have to pray over FaceTime. And Hudson has to be there for all of it.

“It was just a big, emotional disconnect…” Hudson said. “I think just the emotional side of it, adapting, seeing these families break, it’s been very hard for me mentally.”

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As challenging as it is for her, Hudson understands the scope of the global problem.

Shana Hudson helped Florida win back-to-back SEC championships.
Shana Hudson helped Florida win back-to-back SEC championships. [ JIM BURGESS | Photo by Jim Burgess ]

“It’s a very tough position, but it’s also not every day the world is under a pandemic,” Hudson said. “When I became a nurse in 2014, that’s what I signed up for.”

And she knew what she signed up for when she accepted the job in New York; Hudson intentionally chose a four-week contract so she could either stay on longer if needed up north or return home around the time Florida’s cases were expected to peak.

The good news, if there is any, is that things are looking slightly better in New York. Hudson said admissions have been decreasing at her hospital. The curve seems to be flattening, thanks to social distancing.

As the national conversation shifts from public health to reopening the economy, Hudson is conflicted. She doesn’t know how to balance saving jobs with saving lives.

Related: 5 things to know about hitting the COVID-19 peak

“(Restarting the economy) is going to be a slow process, and it’s something that they kind of have to do,” said Hudson, a three-time all-Pinellas County selection at East Lake. “But it also terrifies me, too, because I don’t want to see us take five steps forward and 100 steps back where we’re in this crisis mode again, like New York City has seen.”

Hudson has seen enough of that herself.

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