Singer, Songwriter Drops the Mic for Scrubs, Mask, and Shield in COVID ICU
“I’ve always lived a double life,” said Felicia Temple, BSN, RN, CAPA, an international recording artist who, after cutting her world tour short, went to work as a nurse in a COVID-19 ICU, while being monitored for metastatic neuroendocrine cancer.
The 32-year-old former contestant on The Voice had just performed on stage in Belgium for thousands of people when the March 12, 2020, European travel ban was announced. Temple was among the many people scrambling to get back into the United States. When her flight from Heathrow to JFK landed, she turned on her cell phone. A text from Holy Name Medical Center asked, “Are you in the country? Can you come in? We need you.”
On the front line
During the peak of the pandemic, in New Jersey’s epicenter of Teaneck, Temple cared for rows of patients on ventilators in a temporary ICU. In under one week, an open space with no electricity or running water was converted into a 16-bed unit for COVID patients on ventilators. For ten weeks, while layered in protective gear, Temple offered intensive care in a rustic environment, wheeling equipment across cement floors and past framed, but unfinished, walls covered with plastic sheathing and plexiglass.
“It was like a military field hospital,” said Temple. “One day I may be able to process what I saw. It was gruesome. But not now.”
She endured heartbreak from holding the hands of 30-40-year-old patients who were dying. At the end of a shift, after putting patient after patient into body bags, she found herself numb, in shock and sorrow.
Though family and friends expressed concern for her safety, Temple didn’t share those concerns. With absolute strength and certainty in her voice, Temple said she didn’t hesitate to answer the call for help. “I’m a nurse. I was going to go.”
Temple has deep roots in Teaneck. She wanted to be there for her patients, colleagues, and community. She knew many people who contracted coronavirus. “This was personal. I lost three family members who share my last name,” Temple said about her two aunts and an uncle who died from COVID-19.
After living through cancer, Temple said she is not afraid of anything. “I don’t let a disease define me; I live my life.”
Felicia’s Cancer journey
Diagnosed in June of 2015 with stage III neuroendocrine cancer of the appendix, Temple underwent almost one year of treatment, including a hemicolectomy and chemotherapy.
On one of her most difficult days, sickened by nausea and fatigue, Felicia wrote the song Okay, Alright, which features supportive voicemail messages from family and friends. Through songs, like Carpe Diem, Temple tells her cancer story in her 2017 album “The Balancing Act.” It’s a story about feeling tired, broke, and scared, before being uplifted by hope, love, and strength.
On the third anniversary of The Balancing Act, in which she sings, “I’m just hoping I can see next year,” Temple’s scans and bloodwork are clear. She feels healthy and strong. She married the man of her dreams who she met a few months before she was diagnosed. Her musical career has exploded. Her dreams are coming true. “I can’t believe I get paid to sing songs I’ve written.”
Instead of performing under stage lights to cheering fans in Europe, South America, and Los Vegas, Temple continues to work as a nurse at Holy Name Medical Center, where she is earning applause for a different reason. Humbly, she says, she is surprised by all the gratitude she experiences when she is just doing her job.
Temple ends the song Okay, Alright with a spoken epilogue. “Thank you to everyone whose been there to support me during one of the hardest times in my life. Your support gave me strength. And I’m so grateful for you.”
Five years following her diagnosis, Temple is returning the favor, by putting her personal safety on the line —her musical career on hold— to help others during their darkest hours.