TAMPA, Fla. - Between surgeries one stressful morning, Ben Cayer and Mindy Brock — husband and wife, and fellow nurse anesthetists — peered through layers of protective gear, and locked eyes.
It was a lovers’ gaze in the most unlikely situation. A co-worker, Chief Nurse Anesthetist Nicole Hubbard, was there to snap a picture.
Now the image, shared on social media, is inspiring people around the globe.
“Everybody’s talking about the photo,” says Cayer, 46. It strikes a chord “because we’re all going through the same thing right now and it’s a symbol of hope and love.”
Brock, 38, adds: “What’s important is that we stick together, we work together, and we always support each other. And not just Ben and I, but the human race right now.”
The Florida pair share a home, a profession and, now, a mission — shouldering the high-risk duty of placing breathing tubes in surgery patients, any of whom may have COVID-19.
They didn’t think twice about volunteering for Tampa General Hospital’s new “airway team,” Cayer says.
Placing a tube into a patient’s mouth and down into their airway requires close contact — and because the virus spreads in droplets, the highest level of protective gear. To conserve gear and expose fewer health care workers, the hospital pared down staff to a minimum for intubations before surgery.
Their patients have been in car crashes, or needed brain surgery because of a ruptured blood vessel. As is the case at many U.S. hospitals, only emergency surgeries continue at the Tampa hospital, to make room as the pandemic continues to crest.
They met in nurse anesthesia school in 2007. In classes, they sat in alphabetical order. Brock next to Cayer, she says, “and it just took off from there.”
They married five years ago and now work for TeamHealth, a medical staffing firm. But on the morning of the photo, they bickered during the drive to work. They disagreed about what to play on the car radio, and who was doing the dishes at home.
The new COVID-19 procedures — it was Brock’s first day on the new team — were making them both tense.
“We were arguing,” she says. Later, they found each other between surgeries. The tension melted. “All those trivial things that we were arguing about that morning, in the grand scheme of things, aren’t that important.” The photo captures that moment.
He says they don’t worry much about getting sick, although the virus has come close. Brock’s mother has recovered from it. Co-workers fear catching it. Patients feel alone because visitors have been strictly limited.
“We have grown men bawling because none of their family can be there with them,” Brock says.
It helps to be married to another nurse, because “unless you’re here doing this, there’s no way to describe it,” she says. “He gets it.”