A nurse without an N95 mask raced in to treat a ‘code blue’ patient. She died 14 days later

Monique Hernandez, a nurse at Riverside Community Hospital, attends a candlelight vigil for nurse Celia Marcos outside Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday

The decision that Celia Marcos made, the one that would ultimately steal years from her life, had been hard-wired after decades working as a nurse.

On the ward that she oversaw at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, a man with COVID-19 had stopped breathing. Marcos’ face was covered only with a thin surgical mask, and obtaining a more protective N95 mask before entering his room would have wasted valuable time, her colleagues say.

The 61-year-old charge nurse knew the chest compressions and other breathing treatments the patient needed would likely spew dangerous virus particles into the air that could land on her face and clothing. She would be at high risk of catching the coronavirus.

Marcos raced into the room. Fourteen days later, she was dead.

Marcos died in the same hospital where she had worked for more than 16 years, one of at least 36 healthcare workers in California who have succumbed to COVID-19.

In one version of her story, she is a selfless caregiver who chose her patient’s life over her own by rushing into his room without an N95. But staff at Hollywood Presbyterian say the reality is much bleaker.

As charge nurse, Marcos was required to respond to patients who stopped breathing, but she wasn’t provided an N95 mask at the beginning of her shift, her coworkers say. The masks are scarce, and staff who do get them are often asked to reuse them over multiple days, they said.

“The hospital wasn’t giving us appropriate PPE — the N95s were locked,” said one nurse, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity after expressing fear of retaliation from hospital administrators. “It’s just too painful for everybody, what happened to her.”

Though all front-line workers are vulnerable to the coronavirus, Marcos’ death illustrates the way that risk has been amplified by a national shortage of personal protective equipment. Such exposures have been cataloged at hospitals across California.

“I was the one right in front of his face,” Marcos wrote in a text to her niece reviewed by The Times. Concerned she had been infected, Marcos put hand sanitizer in her hair after leaving the patient’s room, and showered as soon as she got home, she said in the message.