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‘Not Broken’: Bel Air nurse and her band, Vagabond Motel, honor COVID survivors, essential workers with song

The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic were a time of fear, uncertainty about what the next day would bring and overall exhaustion for Natasha Ramirez Farr and her colleagues at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, but there also was a sense of resilience and feeling that they would make it through.

Farr, who is a nurse case manager at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air and lead singer for the Baltimore band Vagabond Motel, worked with the band to create the song “Not Broken,” which expresses those feelings.

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The song and music video, which are available on YouTube and through streaming platforms such as Pandora and Spotify, also are tributes to those who survived COVID-19 and essential workers who have remained on duty through the pandemic, whether they are in health care, keeping stores stocked or parents staying home with their children, helping them through virtual school.

“The song was really to chronicle those frightening and exhausting days of the pandemic, and then the resilience and adaptiveness of the essential workforce,” said Farr, 57, of Kingsville.

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The song was recorded in late fall at the Secret Sound studio in Middle River, as vaccines to protect people against COVID-19 were in clinical trials, so it also is meant to recognize “the hope that a vaccine has given us,” Farr said.

The video includes stock images of people wearing masks as well as photos of UCH staff working during the pandemic. It is edited to tell a story from the start of the pandemic in March of 2020 to the current day, when vaccines are available and restrictions on gatherings are being eased.

The first image is the novel coronavirus, which Farr said is a character in the video, and it ends with images of hope, also a character according to Farr.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel ... we’ve adapted to the new normal, and we’re working through it,” she said.

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Farr, a registered nurse, has been in the healthcare field for about 11 years, both in California and Maryland in hospital emergency departments and currently as a case manager. The Baltimore native joined Upper Chesapeake Health in November 2019.

As a nurse case manager, Farr works with members of a patient’s health care team — doctors, nurses and therapists — “to plan for a safe and appropriate discharge,” or determine how to care for their needs during their hospital stay as well as what type of care is needed, if any, once the patient leaves.

Farr has not provided direct care to patients who have COVID-19, but she has communicated with them by phone, plus she has interacted with their families.

“I really feel like everyone has held onto this knowledge that we’re going to come out of [the pandemic],” she said of her colleagues.

Farr also has an extensive background in music, going back to her childhood when she had lessons in voice and instruments such as the violin. She is the lead vocalist and violin player for the five-member Vagabond Motel band, which includes Farr, Michael Gehl on guitar, Fred Louden on bass, percussionist Dan Esser and Ralph Reinoldi on guitar and mandolin.

Farr described the band’s sound as “Americana singer/songwriter” and “eclectic, romantic, rootsy, soulful acoustic rock,” with influences such as Sheryl Crow, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Neil Young, as well as pop artists like Adele and Florence and the Machine.

She was a member of the San Francisco Opera chorus, which she joined in 1993, but she began looking for a new career around 2008 during the Great Recession. She decided on health care, as her father is a pulmonologist and professor of medicine, and her mother was a nurse.

“It made sense to me to go into the medical world, and I haven’t turned back,” she said. “It’s been a great experience.”

Farr recalled the early days of the pandemic, when Upper Chesapeake was “incredibly busy with COVID patients,” as well as patients with other illnesses.

“I was exhausted ... all I could think of was, what would be tomorrow at work?” she said.

Farr also had an “underlying feeling” of faith in the resilience of people and the sense that she and her colleagues could get through those difficult times, with the “potential of what we could do for each other.”

“I can protect my loved ones, my colleagues, my patients, my global family by wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart, representing safe behaviors and recognizing, with a real sense of hope, that there is ‘a light at the end of the tunnel,’ [that] ‘there will be a better day,’” she said in a follow-up email, citing lines from the song.

Farr also acknowledged moments of difficulty for her, such as hearing the daily numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths and knowing that patients could not have any visits from friends and family. UCH is currently allowing hospital visits on a “very restricted” basis, according to the health system website.

“How can I help if I can’t even take my patient by the hand, if my patients can’t even see their loved ones?” she said, recalling her feelings.

Farr, who has been fully vaccinated, still wears protective gear when at work in the hospital, including a face mask and either goggles or a plastic face shield to protect her eyes. Staff who work directly with COVID-19 patients wear layers of protection, such as gowns and respirators.

“Everything from head to toe is covered,” she said. “We need to continue to protect ourselves and the community.”

The song has been well-received by Farr’s co-workers. One nurse told her that she cried for 15 minutes after listening “because someone had recognized her level of exhaustion but still saw the hope underneath.”

Farr also acknowledged the partisan divides that have gripped the country in recent years, but she chooses “to not let that drive every day.”

She noted that she is “just surrounded by good people,” and she stressed that people “all come from the same world,” with similar hopes, goals and needs.

“If that’s your drive, and that’s what gets you up in the morning, I feel like that’s a good thing, and a good thing to share, a good thing to inspire others, that there’s that light at the end of the tunnel,” Farr said.

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