Iris Meda Came Out Of Retirement To Teach Nursing. She Died Of COVID-19 After Exposure From Student
The weight of the pandemic on health care workers brought many retired nurses and doctors back to the field.
Iris Meda was one of them. The 70-year-old mother and retired nurse grew up in Harlem, New York, where she went on to work some grueling jobs before moving to Texas.
Meda retired in January, but the former nurse knew she had to jump back in again during the pandemic.
“My mother was the kind of woman who was always looking to be of service,” her daughter Selene Meda-Schlamel says.
As the coronavirus spread, Meda felt her skills could be useful in teaching future nurses how to care for the affected. The family was nervous at first because after her mom left the health care industry at the beginning of 2020, Meda-Schlamel says they breathed a sigh of relief that she was able to retire “in the nick of time.”
Meda was offered a job at Collin College in McKinney, Texas, and taught rising young health care workers the rules of the road during an unprecedented public health crisis. When she first started, she was under the impression that classes would be virtual because educational institutions were closed at the time, Meda-Schlamel says.
But even the risk of being physically present in the classroom couldn’t stop Meda’s passion for nursing.
“She just didn’t understand that she would be doing the labs,” Meda-Schlamel says. “But by the time she realized the proximity, she was already involved and really, really excited and really committed to what she was doing.”
Working in a lab typically means being in close contact with others. Meda took precautions such as wearing an N95 mask, protective eyeglasses and a face shield. Over time, she used her face shield less and less, Meda-Schlamel says.
In October, one of her students unwittingly exposed her to the virus. Meda died in mid-November after a three-week hospitalization where she was intubated.
The last time Meda-Schlamel saw her mom was dropping her off at an emergency room in north Dallas. Hospital staff wouldn’t let Meda, who was showing symptoms, in the waiting room, so the two waited together in the hospital’s drive thru.
“Mind you, I’m watching my mother, who has given her life and service as a nurse, and she’s hunched over, gasping for breath on an outdoor bench in a drive thru in front of an emergency room,” she says. “I begged them to come help her.”
When the triage nurse eventually came outside to get her mom, Meda-Schlamel says she begged to accompany her inside. However, she says she wasn’t allowed out of fear she may also be infected with the coronavirus.
“So the last time I saw my mother was me screaming to the triage nurse to please take her and please care for her,” she says through tears. “I was not able to see my mother again until she had already passed.”
Now Meda-Schlamel is honoring her mother’s life. She says she’s received an outpouring of calls from people who have said Meda befriended and supported them during desperate times.
So it was no surprise to Meda-Schlamel that her mother felt the call to nursing education and took the chance.
“My only wish is that her students really understand what it means to not only receive the lesson, the skill, the detail that she was trying to impart to them but to also always do your very best and always look for ways to support each other,” she says, “because that is truly her legacy.”
Meda-Schlamel says she ordered 400 face shields to use at her mom’s socially-distanced funeral this weekend and to donate to teachers at Collin College, because “the last thing I would ever want to do is pass this hurt on to another family.”
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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