Every night around 6 p.m., Ben Davis leaves his hotel room in Manhattan after a few hours of sleep and ventures into northeast Central Park, to the village of tents occupying East Meadow. The space is usually a haven for sunbathers, Frisbee throwers and kids with pent-up energy, but with New York closed up tight, the meadow has been turned over to more serious pursuits.
Soon after Davis arrives for his 7-to-7 shift, the flood lights flicker on, illuminating the M*A*S*H-like mobile hospital Samaritan’s Purse has set up. For the next 12 hours, the 2015 Wingate University grad will assist the nurses treating recovering COVID-19 patients.
Davis will monitor and chart the oxygen levels and heart rates of survivors of the deadly disease, using the EMT training he received as a volunteer fireman during his Wingate days.
“In many ways, I feel God has been preparing me for this moment my whole life,” he says.
Davis, 27, certainly has the background for emergency-based mission work. Born into a family of missionaries, he spent much of his childhood in West Africa. Davis majored in political science at Wingate, with minors in French and economics, and soon after graduation he went to work for the international mission group JAARS, in Waxhaw.
Now working as an international relations officer for JAARS’ partner organization, SIL International, in Washington, D.C., Davis plays an instrumental role as SIL International works to apply language expertise that advances development, education, and engagement with Scripture in local communities in Africa.
He’s also a member of Samaritan’s Purse’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), which until now had focused solely on emergency care overseas. But COVID-19 has slammed New York City so hard that the Boone-based nonprofit has set up a makeshift field hospital across the street from Mount Sinai Hospital, at 97th Street. This is Davis’s first DART mission.
The coronavirus numbers in New York City are staggering: nearly 150,000 infected, with more than 11,000 deaths. Medical personnel from around the country have flown in to help ease the situation.
Licensed as an EMT-Basic in North Carolina, Davis is in New York primarily for support. The patients he tends to are alert and recovering. But they’re lonely. They’re not allowed any visitors, so when he’s not taking their pulse or recording their vitals, the affable, good-natured Davis serves as a valuable stand-in for missing family members.
“One of my favorite aspects of the job is spending time sitting and talking with them,” Davis says. “I listen to them, walk alongside them holding a hand, encourage them, and pray with them if asked.”
Learning on the job
Mission work has been a part of Davis’s life for as long as he can remember. His desire to serve was only reinforced during his time at Wingate, where the motto is “Faith, Knowledge, Service.” Those values, he says, led him to join the Wingate Volunteer Fire Department Station 9 in 2014.
After graduation, he moved to the Waxhaw VFD. Working in a rural setting brought with it many challenges.
“I responded to calls in the sprawling, southern zone of the district, where response times can be delayed for a number of reasons,” Davis says. “I learned a lot of lessons and built confidence, especially when responding in my personal vehicle, rendering early basic life support while waiting for the station apparatus and Union EMS to arrive.”
That training has been vital in New York. Davis had never worked in a hospital setting before joining fellow DART members in Central Park. He’s now considering a return to school, to get a physician assistant degree, in order to undertake medical missions overseas.
Davis is eager to learn and is always ready to put his EMT training to use, but before departing for New York, the unknowns – and with this novel coronavirus, there are many – left him anxious.
“For me, the anticipation of challenging times is usually worse than the challenges themselves,” he says. “I learned a lot on the first couple of shifts. I’m getting into a good rhythm, and I love being a part of this team.”
Davis works 12 hours a day, seven days a week. He arrived in Manhattan on April 10 and will leave May 1, having spent roughly 250 hours comforting the afflicted.
And this is one afflicted town. When he first arrived in New York, Davis was immediately struck by the eeriness of a dense, crowded city reduced to a virtual ghost town. The only time he’d ever been to New York was in December 2018, when he was visiting United Nations missions on behalf of SIL International.
The difference is like night and day.
“I was impressed by the scale of the city and the volume of both vehicular and pedestrian traffic,” he says. “This time, I felt shocked to see the opposite. The city is essentially shut down, and my heart is heavy for the people of New York.”
Until the end of the month, Davis will be there, putting his heart into action.
April 27, 2020
- COVID-19 Community Spotlights