Hope, who normally works at a Kingsport hospital as a respiratory nurse, has been in New Jersey for a month, working directly with COVID-19 patients. Bob, her husband, said the experience has not been an easy one.
“She’s surrounded by death up there,” Bob said. “It’s not uncommon for her to see multiple people dying around her every night. It’s serious up there.”
Just before the pandemic hit, the McNeelys were about to officially open SomeThing Squatchy Adventures, their new campground and water adventure business on the Clinch River in Clinchport. But when the opportunity came to help out at a New Jersey hospital, Hope volunteered to serve.
Hope left in mid-April for Long Branch, New Jersey, where she’s working in the hospital’s COVID-19 unit. Meanwhile, Bob has been trying to keep their new business afloat, while also being a full-time father to the couple’s children.
“It’s taken a really, really heavy toll on us, as far as the business goes,” Bob said. “I own a little Ditch Witch company, which it’s side work, but I’ve been having to do that just to keep my head afloat on this business right now, because it’s so bad.”
Bob said Hope works five to six days a week and between 12 to 14 hours at a stretch on the night shift. Some nights are so busy, she doesn’t have time to eat until her shift ends.
When it comes to patients, Hope is treating all ages and a variety of symptoms, not just the standard cough, fever and shortness of breath, Bob said.
“Everybody’s different,” Bob said. “They’ve seen an influx of everything up there; it’s not just one symptom showing.”
While Hope is ready to be home, Bob said, she will be staying in New Jersey until the end of July. When she finally does make it home, Bob wants to do something special after her arrival.
“When I find out the exact date that she’s coming home, I was wanting to surprise her with a community party for her and do balloons and a cookout with family, friends and the community, to do like a ‘Welcome home, hero,’ kind of thing. … I want her to know that everybody is very grateful and we miss her very much,” Bob said, “and I think the best way for us to show that is for us all to be here to support her when she comes home.”
The celebration would be free to the community and would take place at SomeThing Squatchy Adventures, located at 1750 Clinch River Highway.
Fulfilling a calling
Bob said he believes Hope’s willingness to serve, despite the danger of the situation, fits the definition of a real-life hero.
“In this day and time, to see people like that still gives you hope in humanity,” Bob said. “She was called to do what she’s doing in life, to use those kind of skills and knowledge and to have love for people that much to go and be on the front line. It speaks volumes about humans; we are capable of loving, even in the midst of a crisis, and she’s a living tale of it.”