Molloy College Alum Recovers from Covid-19, Returns to Treating Virus Patients
By Briana Bonfiglio
Billy Bianco, 25, a Molloy College alumnus, is a nurse at Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan and Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside.
Photo Courtesy Billy Bianco
When Billy Bianco, a 2017 nursing alumnus of Molloy College in Rockville Centre, first developed an awful cough in early March, he thought it was his asthma acting up.
This was just before confirmed Covid-19 cases began rising in the state. Bianco, 25, had not yet treated a coronavirus patient at Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, where he works full time, or Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, where he works per diem around two days per month. He had not yet seen the severe and fatal toll the virus would take on patients. So he used his inhaler - but that wasn't helping. Once he started getting bad body aches, and eventually was bedridden, he suspected he had coronavirus.
"It took a lot out of me," Bianco said. "I couldn't move, couldn't get out of bed. It turned into terrible body aches, and it felt like I was being stabbed if I moved the wrong way."
He got tested at the Jones Beach drive-through testing center about five days into being symptomatic. When he didn't receive a call with test results in three days, he checked his patient portal. The results were in: he was positive for Covid-19. At this point, he was at the tail end of the illness, and it just confirmed what he'd suspected.
Bianco, who is from Shirley, had just moved in with his girlfriend and her family in Long Beach on March 1, before getting the virus. While sick, he self-isolated in a room in their home for about a week, and then spent a few more days recovering at his parents' home in Shirley. After feeling well again, he waited about four days before returning to work, and that's when everything started to change at his job.
Hospital for Special Surgery, where Bianco typically sees healthy patients undergoing orthopedic surgeries, was now taking in overflow coronavirus patients from other hospitals. To his benefit, Bianco had experience working full time at Mount Sinai South Nassau, where he learned crisis management, he said.
"It was a little scary at first," he admitted. "Right when I went back was when the crisis was at its peak." Bianco explained that many staff members at the hospital had to shift roles and rise up to the occasion. At times, he's found himself taking on a leadership position in the unprecedented situation.
"Patients we were getting were much more critical than anything I've ever seen," he said. "I took on the role of teaching a lot of staff who weren't familiar with critical patient care.
"A lot of it is just teamwork," he continued. "At the end of the day, it comes down to having a system and a plan. It's easy to panic and shut down in a crisis, but my go-to is being able to compartmentalize."
Bianco added that the support of his fellow Molloy College alumni is a huge help during these difficult times. "I have great friends I've made at Molloy," he said. "We're a community of nurses, and we're all using Facebook and social media to share our stories and be there for each other. Having other people that understand is what makes a difference."
Another challenge was finding a place to live, where he was away from family and keeping them protected.
He stayed in a hotel and with colleagues for a few days, until the Hospital for Special Surgery offered him free housing for those affected by Covid-19, within walking distance from the hospital. He goes to work feeling lucky - that he survived the virus and is able to keep his family safe. Many patients aren't as lucky.
"I'm seeing people starving for air," he said. "There are a lot of people who don't see what we see and don't understand the gravity of what's going on."
"It's so important to social distance and take care of your fellow person," he added. "I survived, but that doesn mean that everyone I came in contact with would have."