Nancy Jo Cain is in remission from leukemia. She is 77 years old. She could be retired, hidden away from the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, she kept putting on the personal protective equipment needed to take care of a man with COVID-19 last month. She continues to care for elderly people who might have the virus and not know it yet.
“I looked at the people I worked with and said, ‘Look, c’mon guys. I’m not insane for doing this. I’m not trying to get anyone to pin roses on me. This man is a patient. He has an issue. It’s our responsibility to take care of him,’” Cain said.
It’s a responsibility Cain takes seriously as a nurse at The Springs of Lima on Eastown Road. It’s one of eight long-term care facilities in Allen County with at least one reported case of COVID-19 inside the campus since the pandemic started, according to the Ohio Department of Health. (In full disclosure, she works at The Springs of Lima with my wife.) She sees it as her calling as a Christian.
“I took an oath in front of God, all creation, my family and my college community,” said Cain, a nurse for the past 44 years. “I swore I would take care of those in need.”
Cain, a member of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Lima, particularly takes her commitment to serving God seriously. She belongs to the Brothers and Sisters of Charity community in its “domestic expression.” The monastic community was founded in 1980 by John Michael Talbot, a popular author of contemporary music for Catholic services.
“We live our lives just exactly like the monks and the people in the monastic expression do, except we have jobs and families,” Cain said.
Cain was married when she was 17 and had her first child shortly after she turned 18, living in her hometown of Rantoul, Illinois. She finished her nursing training in her early 30s at Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois.
Eventually, she worked in a lab at the University of Illinois, where she supervised master’s and doctorate students doing research with people. In exchange, she picked up her “bachelor’s and master’s, and a couple of other bachelors just for fun,” she said.
For nearly 20 years, she worked as a traveling nurse throughout the country. On her off days, she enjoyed going to theme parks in Florida with a colleague there. She recommends the free museums if you’re ever working in Washington, D.C.
Eventually, she landed in Lima. She worked eight years as a home health nurse before joining The Springs of Lima in September. She likes St. Charles’ church, which reminds her of her parish in Illinois. And at an age when many people of her generation are hiding from the virus, she feels called by God to keep serving others.
“God got me through a lot of crap, including a nasty divorce, but he gave me four beautiful children,” Cain said. “… I’m in my fourth year of remission from a very rare form of leukemia, and I’m here. I feel it’s my job. I have an education — maybe too much education — and I have the experience to help. I’m not going to sit at home and do nothing.”
Some of her younger colleagues question why she would willingly care for a patient who tested positive for COVID-19, which was attributed to the deaths of 30 people in Allen County through Thursday, including 20 women over the age of 70. She remembers being a nurse during the HIV crisis in the 1980s, when no one knew who was infected, making any work with blood dangerous. She said being unprotected then was much scarier than anything she faces today.
“They’d ask me, ‘Why would you go into the isolation room and take care of the COVID patient?’ He’s a patient. He’s sick,” Cain said. “If I put on my personal protective equipment, I wash my hands and follow what I’m supposed to do every time before I went in, I’ll be OK. I will say that every time I came in and knew I was assigned to be on that hallway, I’d pray, ‘Dear God in Heaven, use me how you will, and please protect me.’ And that’s what He did.”