‘Country girl’ nurse didn’t have NY on her mind but call was strong

‘When I felt the desire to go and help, I knew it had to be God’

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Shawn Edwards wasn’t surprised to learn a former church member from a church he pastored in Franklin, N.C., was volunteering with an organization to join the fight against the coronavirus in New York.


Edwards, the Associational Ministry Strategist for the Severns Valley Association of Baptists, said the family holds a special place for him. “There are some people in ministry that are forever in your heart,” he said. “Certain people, certain families. Her family is those people.”


Stephanie Crabtree was only 14 years old when Edwards left the Cowee Baptist Church. Her mother and father are strong Christians who gave Edwards tremendous support in his ministry there. Her father, a former State Trooper, was trapped and ambushed and almost died and it left him with lifelong injuries. But it didn’t stop him from serving God.


“He went through extensive therapy,” Edwards said. “God has used him in marvelous ways. It’s an incredible family.”


Now, God is using his daughter in a special way.


Stephanie, who survived cancer in the spine as a young girl, turns 30 this summer. She is a registered nurse, wife and mother of two and recently learned she was expecting a third child. And she is someone who wants to be used of God in mighty ways.


The coronavirus was limiting her days at the hospital in Gainesville, Georgia, where she works as a registered nurse. She went PRN, essentially used on as needed basis in January, to spend more time with her children, ages 5 and 2.


She was talking to friend in the Air Force and learned about an opportunity to work as an RN in Manhattan. After saying she wasn’t a veteran, the friend said they were taking civilians the need was so bad. So, she signed up for Team Rubicon.


Stephanie would be in Manhattan for four weeks, working six 12-hour shifts. They would provide room and board and weekly pay. It was going to be grueling work and night shifts.


“I signed up and here I am,” she said.


Crabtree said she has never been to New York and never even thought about paying a visit to the Big Apple. “I’m a country girl through and through,” she said. “When I felt the desire to go and help, I knew it had to be God.”


She told her husband, Stephan, earlier in March when the coronavirus started that she felt the call to come. She applied through two different companies but never received a call back.


“He was completely OK with it,” she said. “We were not busy in Gainesville. I was cut to one day a week and the hospital kept cutting back. They filed personal unemployment for me.”


Then the couple learned they were – Surprise! – expecting a new family member.


“We found out we were pregnant and thought maybe it’s not God’s will (for her to go),” she said. “I prayed about it trying to see what’s next, and this opportunity came. But now I’m pregnant and at a higher risk (of the virus).”


About two weeks ago when she was driving home from work, she cried out to God for direction. “I said, ‘OK God’ – I was crying – ‘I am overwhelmed. I have to leave my family for four weeks and I’m pregnant. If this is what you want, open the doors. I’ll go if you want me to go, just give me a clear sign.’’’


With that, she said, some peace came over her.


'I'm going to New York'


And the next day, those signs started showing up brighter than the lights on Times Square.


The child-care where her oldest child stayed was going to be open five days a week and they could take on her other child as well. Her parents and her husband’s parents could help with pickup since he owns a construction business and wouldn’t be home in time. She also had to fill her shift at the hospital and that was done in less than 30 minutes.


“I called my husband and said, ‘I’m going to New York.’’’


Her parents were worried and “at first my dad was not happy. He knew I was pregnant. He didn’t say much,” she said. “I told him I feel like God’s calling me to go. He said, ‘I’m not going to get in the way of God’s calling.’ My mom was a little emotional. She said, ‘Just call us every day.’’’


Crabtree is completing her first week of duty and she makes daily calls to her family and to her mother and father. She remembers a phone call to her husband on the third day in New York.


“I was a mess,” she said. “I was settling in to be here for four weeks. That’s a really long time. I was never away from my kids for more than a week and I was with my husband then. I was crying to him. I felt so guilty even being upset.”


It was culture-shock as a person and as a nurse, she said. She was offered a position in administration because of her pregnancy but she wanted to work bedside with patients. She is assigned to an area where patients are recovering and preparing to be discharged. Many of them are Hispanic and they are scared, she said. “They think if they get this virus, they’re going to die. They’re so scared and haven’t seen family.”


Joy and sadness through Facetime


Apple has provided multiple iPads and one thousand IDs so they can help patients get in touch with and even see their families. Crabtree said it’s amazing watching that interaction and how much good it does for those who are sick. Next door to her is a palliative care and hospice unit for those who are dying from the coronavirus. Some of them, she said, are talking to family for maybe the last time via Facetime.


That’s something that nobody ever gets used to doing, Crabtree said.


She said there are many patients from the Spanish population because they are working close together in chicken plants or other industry. “They work so close together and live so close together, it spreads quickly through their community.”


Crabtree said one woman who hadn’t spoken with family for three weeks was finally connected with them. “She hadn’t seen or had an update on her dad for three weeks and we’re trying to find a phone number. Somehow, she called, and got connected with us. We did Facetime for them and they both just cried.”


Crabtree works 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and checks on patients throughout the night. She is shuttled to her motel in New Jersey after the shift and checks in at home on her babies.


She has a healthy respect for the virus and loads up with personal protective equipment with her shift after every patient.


“It affects different people so differently. Some people will be so, so sick and others don’t have symptoms. We had a 90-year-old woman who answered yes to the screening questions. We tested her and she tested positive and she was completely fine. She’s on our unit now (expecting to be dismissed). Then you have 50-year-olds who we’ve had to intubate. It is super-contagious so I understand all the shutdowns.”


Her family owns a lot of small businesses in their town and they’re suffering. “But opening up in phases is the best thing to do,” she said. “You don’t want to overwhelm the hospitals after seeing what’s happening here. If people saw some of the horror stories here, they’d be more understanding.”


'I need to go home to my babies'


Hospitals in New York are making disaster policies where there’s criteria for patients who may be the first to get a ventilator to take away any bias, she said.


Crabtree will be serving for three more weeks and she’s made some friends. She said they may go to Times Square on an off day, but she mostly plans to stay in her hotel room, check in on family, do a lot of praying and finish off the assignment God has for her.


“I think this will be a one-time thing. I don’t want to be away from my family any longer,” she said. “I need to get home to my babies.”


Crabtree said the experience has allowed her to put even more trust in God for her life. “We weren’t trying for a third child, we were a little surprised,” she said. “But the way everything fell into place the last six months, I was just want to let go of control and trust Him more.”

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