Far from home, Emily Murphy describes her soccer journey at UNC

By Eric Weir

It’s September 17, as fans flood into Dorrance Field.

Hundreds of students line up an hour early and are comfortably packed into the student section.

Some students purchase standing tickets, a few wait for security to look away so they can disappear into the stands. Other fans peer through fences, climb on top of walls, set up on dorm balconies, and any other way so they could get a view of the UNC vs. Duke women’s soccer game.

Emily Murphy, a freshman, had a seating problem of her own. Her seats were great as they were right next to the sideline, but she hated being an observer.

Murphy sat on the sideline wishing her ankle wasn’t as swollen as an elephant’s and that she could kick her walking boot to Hooker Fields.

If Murphy had a choice, she would be playing, even if that meant running around with the walking boot.

Instead, she was an injured observer with VIP seats to UNC’s first ever loss at Dorrance Field.

“I was gutted. That was the biggest game we’d had all year,” said Murphy.

A Key Piece in Solving the Puzzle

Prior to her injury, Emily Murphy had been emerging as a key piece in Head coach Anson Dorrance’s puzzle.

Murphy became a top scoring option on a team that had made it to the NCAA Tournament Semifinals earlier this Spring. Murphy and the Tar Heels started the season with a perfect 7-0-0 record before she missed three straight games with her ankle injury. In the brief span since her injury, the Tar Heels have gone 1-1-1.

When Murphy was in primary school back in Windsor, England, her parents would ask how she ruined her shoes and how she got those scrapes on her knees. Murphy said it was because she was playing soccer on the concrete with all the boys.

Every couple of weeks she would get a new pair of shoes and every couple of weeks she would ruin them. Several ruined pairs of shoes later, her parents learned to only buy her cheap school shoes instead of trying to keep her from the playground soccer pitch.

Gone Pro

In November 2019, Murphy exited the Chelsea locker room at Kingsmeadow Stadium for Chelsea’s match against Tottenham. Her nerves were greeted with the biting, autumn English air and the flags flapping against the wind.

In the sixtieth minute of the match, with around two thousand fans in attendance, Murphy jogged onto the field and officially became a pro.

“That was one of the most surreal moments of my career, […] that was probably the first time I was like, yeah, this is definitely what I want to do,” said Murphy.

Despite some success with Chelsea and later Birmingham City, Murphy was not going to get consistent playing time at her age and needed to find a better opportunity.

Murphy began watching the NCAA women’s soccer tournament and found herself rooting for the Tar Heels. She began to do some research on Anson Dorrance and found herself asking her coaches and friends about UNC.

Her coaches had nothing but good things to say about UNC’s entire soccer program and encouraged her to apply.

“I came to UNC to compete. I was totally focused throughout the summer and my plan was to come in and make an impact,” said Murphy.

In August, Emily Murphy dropped off her final bag in her dorm room. She sat down and wiped the sweat from her brow; the unfamiliar North Carolina heat had beat her down as she moved in.

A New Kid on the Block

As she entered her first meeting with the team, Murphy’s nerves ran up her back. She was the new kid, the British player, and she barely knew anyone.

Those nerves dissipated as her teammates began introducing themselves and began a team scavenger hunt.

“You must be Emily.”

“Hi Emily it’s nice to meet you.”

Eventually, one of the taller girls made her way over to Murphy. Murphy already knew her name, years of watching UNC had exposed her to this girl’s greatness in front of the net.

“Hi, I’m Claudia Dickey.”

The senior goalkeeper had led the Tar Heels to two national title games and was named to the First Team All-ACC. She also had a reputation of being reserved.

“As much as Claudia denies it because she pretends she’s emotionless and hasn’t got a soft sport for anyone. I know she’s got a soft spot for me,” said Murphy.

Despite Dickey’s denial, her and Murphy began to form a sisterly bond. Many early weekends were spent getting dinner together with Dickey’s family and many late nights were spent laughing together in someone’s dorm room.

On the soccer field, Dickey’s influence on Murphy was immeasurable. Dickey would relay her experiences to Murphy and give her some tough love when she needed it.

During a preseason match against High Point University, Murphy was subbed out in the middle of the second half.

Making an Opening

Murphy jogged off the field, but inside she was screaming at herself. She couldn’t figure out how to break through High Point’s defense.

She made her way to the water cooler, but Dickey cut her off. Dickey, who was resting, began telling Murphy different ways she could break down High Point’s defense and what she learned from past UNC greats like Alessia Russo.

Murphy tried to move around Dickey, but she got cut off again. For the next several minutes, Dickey offered different strategies for Murphy to consider.

After her dry, ten-minute break, Murphy head back onto the field with new determination. Within minutes, Murphy broke through the defense and scored.

As she walked off the field as the game ended. Dickey smiled as she approached Murphy.

“You could have got at least another one. Why did you only get one?” said Dickey

Murphy says her relationship with Dickey has been great because it’s fun and playful, but they’re also constructive of each other.

In Murphy’s first match back from her ankle injury, Claudia scanned the field trying to find someone to get the ball to. She spotted Murphy’s white jersey scurry into view among the wave of defenders. She flung the ball just to the right of Murphy. Murphy tried to turn upfield, but was cut off by the only defender between her and the goalie. Murphy dribbled the ball towards the sideline. She tried pushing herself to go faster to get around the defender, but she lost control of the ball and rolled out of bounds.

“I’m sorry about messing up that throw,” said Murphy as they walked off the field.

“There’s nothing to apologize for,” said Dickey, “just do it better next time.”

Murphy says her game has changed a lot since coming to UNC. She has learned to have faith in her teammates and how to be a more selfless player.

“I feel like every game we’re improving, every game we’re finding something new and we’re building more relationships,” said Murphy.

This time next year, Murphy wants to have made a name for herself at UNC. She wants other teams to point her out when they’re watching film and she wants to be the player opposing teams center their game plan around to stopping her.

She wants to be a player opponents fear.

Edited by Jake Jeffries

 

Healthcare workers continue to fight in the battle against COVID-19

By Mary-Kate Appanaitis

Ema McCool takes a deep breath behind her mask knowing it will be a while before she can escape the feeling of being smothered.

She puts on elastic shoe covers over her scrubs, a surgical gown that ties behind her neck and behind her back, a scrub cap over her hair, two layers of surgical gloves, an N95 face mask, and a large plastic face shield.

Antiviral wipes in hand, McCool pushes the door open to check in on one of her several patients. It’s a one-sided interaction. Her patient is intubated, silent, and motionless. The only noise in the room is the shuffle of her shoe covers against the sterile floor and the persistent whirl of the ventilator.

McCool takes the patient’s vitals and updates the medical chart notes each day; continually becoming less hopeful as the damage of COVID-19 spreads and worsens.

McCool observes that the patient’s oxygen levels are lower than the day before. Aware that the patient’s time is most likely coming to an end, she prepares for the bed transfer, the paperwork exchange, and the new file that will be placed by the door when a new patient will be brought in.

When she signed up for her job, she was not expecting to become the last face that many people would see in their lifetime.

As a junior at North Carolina State University, aiming to become a physician’s assistant, McCool knew she needed hands-on experience in hospitals.

In a dark stroke of luck, Duke Hospital was desperate for positions.

The pandemic spurred a healthcare worker shortage, and the need was felt sharply throughout all units. McCool applied in September of 2020, and by October she made the first of many half-hour drives from her Raleigh apartment to the hospital in Durham.

On her first day of work, McCool arrived at Duke with no information other than the building address and her agreement to work as a nursing assistant.

She accepted the position knowing there was a high possibility that she would be around COVID-19 patients in any unit that she could be placed in, but her suspicions about her proximity to the virus grew as she greeted her new colleagues.

McCool quickly figured out that the procedures she was learning in her orientation were far beyond the scope of standard COVID-19 policies in hospitals. Extensive personal protective equipment covered all the features of her colleagues around her, leaving only their exhausted eyes visible.

Her group leader solemnly confirmed her worries. She would be working in the SICU.

The SICU, or Surgical Intensive Care Unit, acts as an overflow unit for patients affected by any illness, but in recent history, it has been teeming with those affected by the coronavirus.

When Duke’s hospital beds are full, those who have missed the cut-off are sent to the SICU. They remain there until either another bed has opened, they have recuperated enough to leave, or most likely, until they have passed.

While her family beams with pride at the work she’s been a part of, her roommates did not feel as enthusiastic.

Two of McCool’s roommates moved out by the end of the month in fear that they may be infected by McCool possibly bringing home COVID-19 from the hospital.

Despite all the precautions taken by McCool at her job, her four-person apartment shrank.

Hospital clothes were discarded in the parking garage before leaving the hospital, masks were worn indoors around others, and once home she immediately showered and placed all potentially contaminated clothes in the washer. But the fear of the coronavirus was too strong.

Over the past 11 months, McCool has watched a never-ending stream of patients come in and out of the SICU. As soon as a bed becomes empty, a new patient has arrived to fill their place. There is no time to mourn, or to process the loss, before another patient in failing health is placed into care.

Though she has accumulated notebooks full of knowledge that will set her ahead for her medical career, one of the most important skills McCool has obtained is the power to compartmentalize.

Every element of the SICU is overwhelming. Sweltering heat magnified by layers of protective gear, the stinging smell of disinfectant on every surface, and a constant fear that an inhaled breath near a patient was a little too deep and a little too unlucky.

But there is no time for any thoughts other than moving forward and assisting the next patient.

“You just can’t think about it,” McCool said. “You don’t let yourself think about any of the details because if you do, you know that you won’t be able to keep going.”

And so, the three twelve-hour shifts a week simply became another part of her routine.

With NC State returning to in-person classes, McCool’s calendar is strategically outlined balancing homework and studying with patient care. But the ability to separate work from everyday life is growing to become a challenge, as people closer to her own age, 21, are beginning to appear in her unit, requiring her care.

McCool has a front-seat view to both sides of the unfolding story. As a student, she watches as well-intended college parties become hotspots for the very disease that she watches kill her patients.

When her coworkers feel safe returning home to their families, McCool returns to a campus, where she feels there is still a high chance that she could be exposed to COVID-19. As a student, the need to be on high alert doesn’t fade for her when she leaves the hospital, unlike the rest of the staff in the SICU.

She watches as classmates refuse to receive a vaccine, and then appear in line for an overflow bed at Duke, praying for relief from the virus.

McCool’s ability to separate work from her own feelings dwindles with each dreaded zipping noise of a body bag closing, signaling space being cleared for a new patient, and a family’s loss.

A grandfather who spends his final days surrounded by photos of his family, when none of them were allowed into the building.

Zip.

A young mother who asks for McCool’s help in making concrete imprints of her hands, in the hopes that her three-year-old son could try to remember her touch.

Zip.

One of Duke Hospitals’ own workers, destroyed by the disease she fought to save her patients from.

Zip.

The sound of one phase of the cycle ending, and another phase of the cycle beginning. It doesn’t stop.

While the burnout from the work that McCool does may be growing, she has no plans of letting it stop her. Instead, she lets it propel her forward.

She sees each new patient as a new opportunity to help any to degree she can; to use her skills and knowledge to aid those who are sent to her unit when there is nowhere else for them to go.

She puts on her personal protective gear, sanitizes herself and everything around her, and prepares herself to do her job – to take care of her patients.

One more deep breath in, and she enters the next patient’s room.

Edited by Jake Jeffries