A COMFORTER ABOARD THE COMFORT

Pier 90 has been the berth that housed USNS Comfort since March 30th.  Senior Lieutenant Command Chaplain Chad Hamilton and Lieutenant Jr. Grade Chaplain Johnny Bravo have the job of providing spiritual comfort to patients and crew aboard the hospital ship.  Their responsibilities run the gamut from filling simple patient requests to administering last rights. As part of the Navy Chaplain Corps, they are ready and on call.

USNS Comfort sails under the Navy’s Military Sealift Command.  The joint assembly of civilian and Navy doctors, nurses and medical technicians began receiving a few non-infected patients within days of arrival.  But with infections rising in April, the greater demand for Covid-19 ICU admissions around the metropolitan New York area suddenly transitioned Comfort from a trauma-only medical facility to a full fledged Covid-19 treatment center.  The 180 degree turn was smoothly and efficiently handled.

As the media covered politicians and CDC officials crying.  “Test, test, test!”, Chaplain Bravo was quick to attest the Navy world is all about “Train, train, train!”  Comfort swung into action.  Ventilators were uncrated, Personal Protective Equipment was unwrapped and skids of full-face respirator gear were lowered on deck by the Nightdippers helicopter squadron.  All the while, Comfort hospital staff carried out a mission that required flexibility and precision.

Comfort has a cadre of nurses that are specifically trained in accepting and admitting new patients onto the ship, a stressful and difficult task wielding the heavy ventilation equipment that accompanies the patient when they are transferred from the ambulance. Then, it is a long procession down the long corridors into the ICU.

A MIRACLE OR JUST ANOTHER DAY OF NAVY PREPAREDNESS?

USNS Comfort received official U.S. notification that it will no longer be required as a backup hospital facility here in New York Harbor.  Comfort treated 182 Covid-19 patients in total.  Twenty nine patients were released over the past two weeks.  The remaining patients were transferred back to local hospitals in New York and New Jersey.  The last recovering patient was transferred yesterday.  There were no Covid-19 deaths aboard Comfort.

Today, the ships’ medical rooms are silent, the blood laboratories have no new samples to test, and the Chaplains & doctors have no rounds to attend to.  Chaplain Bravo did have the opportunity to answer a few questions while the rest of the ship continued readiness for its departure later this week.

A LONG ROAD TO RECOVERY

Today’s interview with Chaplain Bravo revealed his personal feelings about his service.  We learned of his constant use of PPE and following all CDC guidelines.  He encouraged patients and crew members to use the Zoom mobile app for Easter and Passover celebrations.  In the absence of a brick and mortar church, temple or mosque, he has no qualms practicing individual religious faith through any medium available.  Ultimately, Chaplain Bravo was happiest accompanying his recovered patients off the ship and walking them onto the Pier toward solid ground.

As he spoke from the ship, New York Governor Cuomo and NYC Mayor DeBlasio both announced plans to slowly re-open facilities and businesses as Covid-19 hospitalizations and mortality rates decrease.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

As Comfort leaves New York Harbor, it will pass Governor’s Island.  On the port side, there will be a lone sailboat in an empty Brooklyn Marina.  The sailboat is called The Turning Point.  On a path similar to Comfort’s just three weeks earlier, it journeyed up the Easter Seaboard from Virginia.  But this time, the ship was occupied only by a husband and wife team.  It was Easter weekend.  Rachel Hartley, an ICU nurse who is working a 60 day stint at NYU Langone Hospital in Sunset Park Brooklyn will now take over where Comfort left off.  Along with a galley full of hospital workers, this crew will be living on the sailboat to fulfill their mission to aid New York’s Covid-19 patients.  As Comfort passes, the Chaplain will include Rachel and her crew in Comfort’s prayers.

A native of the Bronx, Johnny Bravo is a die-hard Yankee fan.  Uncertainty is hitting home in the heart of New York baseball.  He mulls over the reality that the season may not be up to speed until much later this summer.  It must be tough being a Yankees fan on this ship having a thousand other crew mates from the rest of the country who are baseball fans of other teams.

CHAPLAIN BRAVO’S BLESSING OF NEW YORK HARBOR

Johnny Bravo is a Comforter Aboard The Comfort.  Danielle Petito joined him in prayer for his blessing of New York Harbor.  He leaves behind a bitter sweet memory, but offers a positive message to all of us.

The hospital ship may leave as early as this Thursday, April 30th. A Sandy Hook Pilot will make the controls on the bridge as the McAllister tugboats help maneuver the ship out into open waters just beyond the Verrazzano Narrows.  The New York State flag will be lowered, folded and re-crated. Destination Norfolk Naval Station before it is dispatched to another region of the world where it is needed once again.

CAN YOU SUGGEST THE MISSION NAME FOR USNS COMFORT’S DEPLOYMENT TO NYC?

When Danielle interviewed Commander Amersbach and asked him if Comfort’s mission to NYC had a name?  Chaplain Bravo said he knows what name he would use but deferred divulgement.  “I believe it is either up to the Captain or up to the public to give it a name.” he said.  From what we can gather, it is our understanding the Captain is also open to suggestions.  If you would like, we invite all of our readers to offer a name of your own.  NYHC will pass it along and see how far it gets.