Nursing Graduate Committed to Care During Pandemic

Eric Gonzalez SNC’16, who suffered COVID-19 twice in 2020 in his work as an emergency room nurse, served with the New Jersey National Guard from 2006 through 2018.

By Sam Starnes

Contracting COVID-19 twice from patients he was treating during the pandemic has not discouraged emergency room nurse Eric Gonzalez from continuing to care for those in need.

Although the 2016 Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden graduate became extremely ill during his second infection, the reward of serving others outweighed the risk. “It feels great when I leave at the end of a shift and my patients tell me they are going to miss me and they are having a better experience,” said Gonzalez, who suffered from COVID-19 in the summer and again in the fall of 2020. “I treat people the way I would want to be treated if I went into the emergency room.”

Gonzalez

Gonzalez, who served in the New Jersey National Guard from 2006 through 2018, has worked as a traveling nurse treating patients in emergency rooms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania during the pandemic. He said despite wearing appropriate protective gear, he contracted COVID-19 in June, when he had milder symptoms, and again in late November when he experienced ten difficult days. “I had terrible body pains,” he said. “I didn’t have the cough or congestion or loss of taste like most everybody else did. My biggest symptom was hyperesthesia, which is sensitivity to the skin. I couldn’t lay on my back or any part of skin on my backside. I also had severe headaches.”

After recovering, Gonzalez went back to work, and was vaccinated early this year. He said the pandemic has been challenging, but that “It’s been the same for everybody—chaos, and overall a learning experience. It’s something we’ve never seen before. It’s something we have to keep learning about and prevent the spread of it.”

A native of Los Angeles whose family moved to Camden when he was 10 years old, Gonzalez said his interest in nursing began when he would go with his mother, who speaks Spanish and was often ill, to the hospital and doctor’s appointments to translate for her. “I liked how the nurses treated my mom, and I liked what the nurses did,” he said.

Gonzalez, whose family later moved from Camden to Pennsauken, joined the New Jersey National Guard when he was a junior in high school. He graduated from Pennsauken High School in 2008 and went on to serve in the National Guard for 12 years, ultimately as a chemical and biological weapons specialist with the 50th Chemical Company in Somerset, New Jersey.

Gonzalez, who attended Camden County College before enrolling at Rutgers–Camden, said he worked hard to improve his study habits and ultimately his grades when he was accepted in the School of Nursing. “I went from barely graduating high school to graduating college with honors,” said Gonzalez, who also served as president of the Student Nurses’ Association. He said a psychiatric mental health course at Rutgers–Camden was a big influence on him. “We learned about therapeutic communication, and that has been the backbone of everything I’ve done in nursing. I get good feedback on the way I talk to patients and my coworkers, and it is because of that class.”

Regarding COVID-19, he said in March 2021 that he was encouraged that the situation was improving, but that people should continue to be careful. “I like to see the numbers going down and that people who are coming into the hospital are less sick,” he said. “We’ve learned that we need to protect ourselves.”

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