by Alex Z. Salinas (B.A. ’11, M.A. ’19)

June 23, 2020. Riverside, California – an hour’s drive from Los Angeles. A makeshift emergency room without air-conditioning inside Parkview Community Hospital – a small-volume hospital that served mostly nursing home patients before the coronavirus pandemic.

Marcie Alvarado (B.S. ’11) is on her very last shift as a nurse at Parkview.

As fate would have it, my last shift in California was the most challenging day ever.

Alvarado, who had been a nurse for seven years, the last two in California

On June 23, “we had three deaths and two codes (cardiac arrests) in the COVID-19 intensive care unit,” she said, which held 25 beds. 

Alvarado was caring for a patient with coronavirus whose blood pressure and oxygenation were “textbook-perfect at the start of my shift,” she said. 

Marcie setting up medical equipment
Marcie Alvarado (B.S. ’11) sets up medical equipment for a patient at Parkview Community Hospital in Riverside, California, where she spent time as a travel nurse during the coronavirus pandemic.

But, “something about her overall presentation did not sit well with me,” Alvarado recalled. 

After taking a lunch break, Alvarado returned and checked the patient’s cardiac monitor – to devastating results. 

I knew she was leaving soon.

Alvarado phoned her pastor, then decided – for the first time in her career – to serve as a “vessel for giving the last rites” while the pastor delivered words of prayer over speakerphone as she held her dying patient’s hand.  

“Throughout my conversations with her (the patient), I paid attention to her steadfast faith, her gratitude,” Alvarado said. “I noticed how she always said to me, ‘Dios te bendiga, mija (God bless you, my daughter),’ for just a simple cup of water.” 

Alvarado said her career as a travel nurse – in which she accepted 13-week contracts at a time – came with the stress of adjusting to new environments and seeing patients at their worst.

Profile view of Alvarado wearing scrubs with her mask pulled down to smile
A rare moment of calm for Alvarado at Parkview.

But the coronavirus pandemic taxed her on a different level.

“Every week there were changes,” she said, “in addition to constantly being on the phone with the pharmacy, the lab, the patient’s family. I’m not a negative person, but I got to a point where I was angry before going into work.

I had to remind myself that we’re all in this, that I had amazing staff to work with.

Alvarado’s journey to becoming a nurse began at St. Mary’s University, where she discovered a perfect fit for her education and spiritual life. 

After having coffee with a St. Mary’s admission counselor, the El Paso native traveled with her parents to San Antonio to tour the St. Mary’s campus – after which she “knew St. Mary’s was it.”

While at St. Mary’s, Alvarado, who majored in Biology, became a President’s Ambassador and a McNair Scholar

She said meeting successful alumni at events and participating in a summer internship at a biophysics lab in the University of Illinois at Chicago her senior year to research stem cells inspired her to pursue a path in medicine to help people personally. 

One of Alvarado’s favorite professors, Ted Macrini, Ph.D., Chair and Professor of Biological Sciences, said Alvarado was “the first student I mentored at St. Mary’s.”

“I was a new professor trying to figure out my job and she was a first-generation college student trying to figure out her career,” Macrini said. 

Macrini said Alvarado’s defining moment was her summer internship in Chicago, after which “Marcie bubbled over with enthusiasm as she described her research and experience in the summer program.”

“Ultimately, Marcie chose to go to nursing school instead of graduate school, and I think this career path suited her well because she is an intelligent, personable, gracious and empathetic young woman,” Macrini said.

After St. Mary’s, Alvarado earned a Master of Science in Nursing from Rush University in Chicago in 2013. 

During a stint working in El Paso, she met her husband, who is a nurse anesthetist. This summer, the couple moved back to El Paso, where Alvarado is taking time off as a nurse to spend with her family. 

“From a nursing perspective, I saw and heard so much pain and suffering everywhere around me – the families I spoke to daily, my coworkers. COVID-19 has made me even more compassionate and patient toward strangers. 

“Now when I go for a run, I’ll wave at people,” Alvarado said. “I thank my barista at Starbucks, I tip my Uber driver bigger.

Life can be very hard, so be kinder to one another. Give more love and patience.

Marcie Alvarado (B.S. ’11)
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