On Friday, Jordan Kaaze had her first day off from her new job. It was 45 degrees in New York City, but every bit of fresh air was paradise to the Invicta FC vet.
Twelve hours a day and five days a week, Kaaze’s work outfit is an N95 mask, goggles, gloves, a gown and a face shield. By the end of the day, she often sports the facial bruises you might have seen online from doctors and nurses on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
”When that first breath hits, it feels good,” Kaaze, 29, told MMA Fighting.
A trauma ICU nurse, Kaaze had been doing her part to combat the virus at a hospital in St. Paul, Minn. But she said there wasn’t as much work to go around because the administration had canceled most elective surgeries to shift resources toward the pandemic. The gym where she trained, Spartan Martial Arts, was shut down. She wanted to get in the bigger fight, which was almost 1,200 miles east in the Big Apple.
Kaaze’s invitation had already been written by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who made a public plea to enlist medical professionals from around the country to help the city battle back against the coronavirus, which as of Friday has infected 123,146 people and killed 8,632.
”If you don’t have a health care crisis in your community, please come help us in New York, now,” he said.
Two weeks ago, Kaaze texted her two best girlfriends and told them she’d been thinking about volunteering to work at the epicenter of the virus. She asked if they thought she was crazy. But as it turned out, they’d been thinking the same thing. That same morning, they reached out to a recruiter, and each of them got job offers that night.
They’d hoped to take a leave of absence when they announced the new gig to the hospital’s human resources department the next day. But administrators didn’t like the idea that they were leaving for other paid work, however noble it might be. So they all gave notice. And soon, they were driving to New York in a rental car.
Kaaze thought family and friends would tell her she was crazy for going right into a hotspot and she was putting herself at unnecessary risk. But even if they had, she was used to hearing that from fighting in a cage.
”I get called crazy for my other hobbies as well,” Kaaze said. “I’m one of those people who step up when there’s a need. I was raised to lend a helping hand when people need it.”
The last time Kaaze was in New York City, it was on a high school trip. This time, she and her friends saw Fifth Ave., Times Square, the Statute of Liberty and the Charging Bull. With the streets empty, they got it done in one day. Then they went to work.
During normal times, most hospitals have three or four ICUs, Kaaze said. But the hospital where she’s been assigned has been almost completely converted into an adult ICU for COVID-positive patients. She’s treated some of the sickest people she’s ever seen in the five days she’s been there. Many of the veteran nurses are just coming back to work after being knocked out by the virus.
”I feel like Mother Nature always has power over humanity,” she said. “The hospital being the humanity, we’re controlling the situation as much as we can with what we have.”
Kaaze has been advised by her recruiter not to disclose the name of the hospital. She figures the reason for this is they don’t want to advertise the fact that the virus is far from under control, and that she and her colleagues don’t always have the protective gear they need. She bristles at media reports that put the shortage in a negative light and said they miss the incredible coordination on display to help patients recover.
”What I see at the hospital is all these staff members are banding together, creating a plan, (and) executing the plan,” she said. “Walking out the door and being able to say I kept a patient alive is a big accomplishment for me.
”I knew I was coming out here to the unknown, and people want all the details. It’s hard to fully explain the situation, because I see the dark and the light of it.”
It takes Kaaze one hour every day to get in and out of her protective gear. She leaves a pair of shoes at the hospital so she doesn’t track anything back to her apartment. When she goes to sleep, she frequently dreams about fighting.
On her first day off, Kaaze is trying to decompress after a chaotic week with little time for physical or mental recovery.
”The rules change every day, which, I’m flexible,” she said. “Some days, we’ve got more equipment than the next, so we kind of fly by the seat of our pants and use what we’ve got.”
She’s been called a hero by several people she’s encountered in New York. But she feels that title is reserved for the health professionals who’ve been in the city since the outbreak started. She’ll be in the city for eight weeks, after which she’ll return to St. Paul and self-quarantine for 14 days on the top floor of her house. Her boss has told her old job will be there.
When Spartan reopens, she said, she’ll be there every day.
”I’ve got to punch a few things and choke a few people, and then I’ll feel better,” she said.
Being in New York doesn’t mean she’s been completely cut off from the sport. She’s followed recent headlines about the UFC’s desire to restart its schedule and UFC President Dana White’s plans for “Fight Island.” While she understands the impulse to get back to action, she’s unsure whether the promotion is doing the right thing.
”I feel like they’re walking a fine line, knowing what I know,” she said. “When I heard about this ‘Fight Island,’ I had a lot of questions in my mind. Are people going to get tested when they go on the island? Because the crazy thing is, a healthy person can be walking around with the coronavirus and not showing symptoms but be passing it to people who become critically ill. That’s the scary part of it.
”MMA is such a close contact sport, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I feel like there would have to be a plan in place for adequate testing before people are that close to each other, but I don’t know.”
White has promised to protect fighters and promotion staff when the promotion reboots on May 9, testing extensively to ensure no one passes on the virus. He has also said fighters who don’t feel safe are not required to fight. Many have said they’re willing to take the risk.
Kaaze hopes life soon goes back to normal so she can fight once again. But the thing about the coronavirus is that the process can’t be rushed.
”We’re getting it under control,” she said. “We’ve got to keep it going to really kill this off. An analogy I use being a nurse, you don’t stop taking your antibiotics because you feel better. You’ve got to finish the course.”