Arman David with his fellow nurses. | Contributed Photo
NEW YORK – Although some people consider nursing a female profession historically, men have been involved in nursing for centuries. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), men were students at the world’s first nursing school founded in 250 B.C. in India. They also helped care for patients in Europe during the Black Plague and treated injured soldiers on battlefields for hundreds of years.
It was only during the 19th and 20th centuries that female nurses took the reign when they made valuable contributions to health care. However, it has become a widely accepted fact that gender does not determine propensity for providing high-quality patient care.
Nursing was not Arman David’s first choice of a profession. It was his mother, Venus, who convinced him to take up nursing instead of computer science, which he had in mind while in high school at the Lourdes School in La Loma, Manila. Like his classmates, he was into computers that were just getting off the ground when the first Philippine-based public-accessed Bulletin Board System (BBS) went online in 1986.
Shift from computer science to nursing
The birth of the Internet opened its doors in the Philippines in 1996. As he was about to graduate in 1995 from the Chinese General Hospital College of Nursing, his interest has shifted. His on-the-job (OJT) training has exposed him to the many aspects of nursing care. A quote from John Maxwell may have reminded him: “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care,” changed his heart and galvanized his will to be a nurse.
“I began to enjoy being a nurse after being exposed to the hospital. I found it exciting, not boring like office work,” Arman of Union, NJ told the Philippine Daily Mirror. In school, like 15 other male classmates of his, he had worked in several areas of nursing care such as post-anesthesia, cardiology, critical care, and surgery.
“It’s easy to study computers, be a nurse first, and then if you still want to study later, you can,” he recalls his mother convincing him as he was about to enter college. His older sister, already a nurse, may have influenced his mother and thought her son would have more job opportunities in the U.S.
A year after graduation, he was on a plane bound for the U.S. with his green card. His parents have been immigrants years earlier and sponsored him.
Ready to fill the demand in America
Arman arrived in Elizabeth, New Jersey summer of 1996 as a 23-year-old yearning to launch himself as a new graduate, male nursing professional ready to fill the demand in America. His gender or race did not matter; he just wanted to roar and explore a newfound future for him to harness and experience.
Today, 23 years later, equipped with a wealth of experience, he enjoys working at the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) of Carepoint Christ Hospital in Jersey City, NJ. His primary responsibility is to provide critical care to patients who have been under anesthesia after surgery (post-op) – making sure they are breathing comfortably, monitoring them for bleeding, and assessing their pain status.
Armand began his career as a nursing assistant at the Elizabeth General Hospital before he passed the State’s board examinations in 1996. He worked in a telemetry/respiratory unit where he had most of his experience attending to cardiac patients.
He did not consider his gender as a barrier to working with his fellow nurses or patients. He said it became more advantageous to him because every time they needed to lift a patient from a stretcher, they always called him to assist. However, he had experienced racism in the workplace. “They believed they were more superior than me and bossed me around and talked to me in a loud voice,” said Arman. “But I just went on with my job; no complaint made my job easier.”
But being a male also poses some problems which he is very much mindful of. “You’ll never know how a female patient would react when you are treating her,” said Arman. “I always see to it that someone else is with me … just in case.”
COVID-19: The scariest experience
Like other nurses, dealing with COVID-19 was the scariest pandemic he has faced in his career. “It made me nervous and afraid of doing my job,” he said. “Worst part was not having adequate personal protection equipment (PPE) to protect us when this pandemic started.
He had just returned from Manila to a medical mission where volunteers brought with them medical supplies including face coverings to their mission field. They distributed them to residents affected by the eruption of the Taal Volcano in Batangas. By the time they got back to New Jersey, COVID-19 was spreading and quickly infecting the elderly. Hospitals were up to capacity. Some nurses who feared to get infected themselves took a medical leave, some even resigned and some persevered to honor their oath.
He said that it was hard enough to do their regular day-to-day patient care and deal with an increase in COVID-19 cases quickly while conserving their PPE use made it even more difficult. At the same time, he was also afraid of getting the virus himself and bringing it home and infecting his family. “I saw many patients that had to deal with this virus and some even died alone,” Arman said. “COVID-19 is a silent and invisible killer that can take your life fast even if you didn’t have any underlying diseases.”
He had experienced treating patients during the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the SARS, but COVID-19 was the scariest he had seen. “Patients deteriorate fast; we can only do so much to care for them,” Arman said.
“Taking care of people no matter what it entails us to do is an oath that we took when we took up the nursing profession,” Arman continued. “So we should always focus on our patients’ well-being and always advocate for them.” However, he said that they should also not forget their safety when giving care. “But as Filipinos, we always do our job first and then complain later. We always have the compassion to take care of others first.”
His unit converted into an ICU overflow with COVID-19 patients. Most of the patients he cared for were in critical condition, mechanically ventilated with a lot of IV drips that are maintaining their vital signs. “The experience was difficult for me since their health deteriorated so fast. There were a lot of deaths I saw during my shift,” said Arman. Three Fil-Ams working at the hospital succumbed to COVID-19: a doctor, a nurse, and a security guard.
Carepoint Christ Hospital, which merged with St. Francis in 2000 as a community hospital, had an entire floor dedicated to COVID-19 patients when it peaked in the April-June period. Arman estimates that 70% of its nurses are Filipinos working in a 12-hour shift from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“I just felt a sigh of relief to finish my shift with no patients that expired. It was really a stressful situation and took a toll on me physically and mentally,” Arman said. “I noticed that my sleep patterns had been affected by all the things that were happening.” He was mindful of safety precautions he had to take whenever he went home and told his children to observe safety procedures.
Committed to community service
He and his wife, Joyce, a Clinical Research Scientist at Merck Pharmaceuticals, have five children. Both have a heart for community service with Joyce’s involvement as a former state president of JCI-New Jersey and current national vice president, and the medical mission trips they both volunteer to join. He is currently an advisor to the JCI-New Jersey. When the city was locked down, they taught their children how to make face masks and shields they donated to organizations and individuals who needed them.
Arman, the youngest of five siblings, has no regret shifting his first choice of profession to nursing. He is still into computers, which he had not lost love with – he uses it in tandem with his hobby in photography. His mom was right in helping him decide which profession to take. There was no turning back as he recalls his journey began — together with 15 male classmates of his in freshman — and endured their studies to become nurses.
For him, his journey is not just about a calling in life or making a difference it is also about being part of the solution to save lives and putting a smile to every patient who needs the compassion of a nurse who cares. Perhaps someday, like a famous male nurse in history — Walt Whitman — a poet and writer, who served in Washington, DC during the Civil War, Arman can write his experience. Whitman recorded his in a collection of poems called Drum Taps and in his diary Specimen Days and Collect.
Meantime, Arman is content with continuing his journey serving the people who need his care regardless of his gender.
With this year’s World Health Organization’s (WHO) designation of 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife in honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the Philippine Daily Mirror has launched “Nurses: Their Calling in Service to Humanity Project.” Our goal is to know them and make known their work. We interviewed several nurses for the work they continue to do. They come from different regions in the Philippines and from the metropolitan New York tri-state area.
Myrna Young: Making a Difference — A Special Report on “Nurses: Their Calling in Service to Humanity”
Marilou G. Bugarin: I’m Here for a Purpose — A Special Report on “Nurses: Their Calling in Service to Humanity”