by Alex Z. Salinas (B.A. ’11, M.A. ’19)
June 23, 2020. Riverside, California. A makeshift emergency room without air-conditioning inside the small Parkview Community Hospital serving mostly nursing home patients before the pandemic.
Marcie Alvarado (B.S. ’11) is on her very last shift as a nurse there. That day, “we had three deaths and two codes (cardiac arrests) in the COVID-19 intensive care unit,” she said.
Alvarado was caring for a patient with the novel coronavirus whose blood pressure and oxygenation were “textbook-perfect at the start of my shift,” she said.
But, “something about her overall presentation did not sit well with me,” Alvarado recalled.
She later checked the patient’s cardiac monitor to devastating results.
“I knew she was leaving soon.”
Alvarado phoned her pastor, then — for the first time in her career — served as a “vessel for giving the last rites” while the pastor prayed over speakerphone as she held her dying patient’s hand.
“Throughout my conversations with (my 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’s journey to becoming a travel nurse — in which she accepted 13-week contracts at a time — began at St. Mary’s University, where she discovered a perfect fit for her education and spiritual life.
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.”