Perhaps it’s because I’m a registered nurse working the bedside of this virus, but I feel like I’ve seen plenty of information about what it’s like for healthcare workers fighting this COVID-19 fight. I’ve seen stories about violence towards people in scrubs out there, but personally I’ve received nothing but support and encouragement. Most of my friends know about our struggles with personal protective equipment (PPE), be it the fears it will run out or the frustration with the ever-changing guidelines of safety by the CDC. People have seen the struggles nurses and others have wearing the same masks for twelves hours or more straight, and aside from them seeing the bruises and pressure sores on my face, I’ve told my family how the continuous wear causes me to feel fuzzy-headed and drowsy (not a good feeling for a critical care nurse).
We (as a healthcare team) mostly keep quiet about the inconveniences of no bathroom or water breaks. I mean, it’s just how it is. Another straw to add to the back of an already sagging camel. Yet, despite any struggles we face physically, or even the fears we attempt to overcome mentally, it’s been so helpful to have the praise and support of family and friends. I know they see me, and they try to sympathize with the war we’re waging against this tricky contagion. I guess, what I’m trying to say is, I feel like a lot of thoughts and prayers have been directed my way, but recently my heart has been breaking for the patients I serve.
If you could see inside my little world, behind smudged googles and hot breath, you would see how COVID is attacking more than our ability to go to the mall, or even beyond our inability to pay bills. You see, this pandemic is more than being forced to stay home, schooling your children, or even (sadly) being unable to gather with your church or extended family. I saw it went beyond missing my baby brother’s wedding, or not being able to find our favored toilet paper. Because beyond sinking stocks and failing businesses were people dying. Scared, alone, and confused.
If you could stand here beside me you would see the real effects of COVID-19. You’d see the frightened eyes of a patient when a crowd of strangers rush into the room, moving quickly, with a sense of urgency. You’d glimpse the fear the patient exuded over all the people surrounding them in hoods, masks, and billowing gowns. The worst part about a mask? They can’t see you smile.
If you stood in my shoes you would hold a patient’s hand with your own gloved-one, attempting to offer comfort, wiping away a stray tear, patting their arm compassionately.
“You’re doing so good. It’s OK. Don’t be afraid.”
While foreign tubes are being inserted, with language barriers in place, you’d try to explain why rolling onto your belly in the hospital bed is needed to perhaps help get a breath and be less excruciating.
If you sat at my desk you’d try and calm a family member, over the phone only, since visitors aren’t allowed.
If you stood outside the glass fishbowl, like me, watching lifesaving procedures being performed in unprecedented ways, to keep staff contamination at bay, you’d feel your heartbreak while staff worked feverishly to sedate the anxious patient, just prior to passing down an endotracheal breathing tube. If you could read the patient’s frantic thoughts at that moment just prior to sweet sleep, you would be certain he wondered worriedly, “what if I never wake up?”
Because people aren’t waking up.
Y’all, I can’t understand all this. It’s not like anything we’ve ever known, and I’m sure you’re getting that Sci-Fi movie vibe too. As if we’re walking through a dream we can’t wake from, we all feel that surreal mood. It’s hard for everyone, and we all feel the sting, but we have to remember to feel more than just how this is affecting us personally. We gotta try to imagine how it’s impacting the world at large, how we’re all hurting in one way or another. Because, you see, it’s our ability to empathize with another than binds us, and if we can stand together (even as we’re physically apart), we will stand stronger when the dust settles. Eventually, it will.