Being a nurse during the coronavirus pandemic brings a rollercoaster of emotions. Many people are worried and complaining about not being able to go out to parties and bars or hang out with their friends. What I am worried about is completely different. Yes, I miss my friends. Yes, I’m disappointed that my daughter’s first Easter was not precipitated by sitting on the Easter Bunny’s lap in the mall and riding the train with her big brother, something that I had been anticipating since her birth in January. However, these things all seem minute compared to my family’s reality today.
I can honestly say that I am not scared of getting the coronavirus. It is hard to take time to think and worry about myself when all this is going on. As an essential healthcare worker, my biggest fear right now is seeing one of my own children on a ventilator and knowing I brought the virus home while simply trying to do my job and help others. People who can work from home with their family safe inside may not realize how lucky they are. Every shift, I go into the hospital and get stopped at the door to have my temperature taken. I am asked a series of questions regarding any recent COVID exposure or potential symptoms. I am then given a surgical mask and sent on my way. Anxiety increases on the elevator as I wait to get on the floor. I never know what I am going to be walking into until I clock in and get my assignment. Some days there are no COVID patients, which is a relief. Other days there are numerous cases, along with a few patients who are going to be tested or are awaiting test results. Those days are more stressful. I suppose it is just the uncertainty throughout the day while potentially playing with fire that heightens my emotions.
Regardless of the situation, patient care must remain the same, or as close to it as possible. During this time, I have sat with a young patient being told he had metastatic cancer, all alone. I have brushed a dying patient’s hair, all alone. I have sat with a crying dementia patient who did not understand why his daughter had “abandoned” him at the entrance of the ER. Seeing the loneliness of the patients, hearing the fear in their voices, wiping away their tears breaks my heart every shift. However, it reminds me, now more than ever, how grateful I am to be a nurse. I am so lucky to be the person who can comfort those in need during some of the most vulnerable times of their lives.
Although I have been screamed at over the phone by numerous family members who are angry with us because they are not allowed to visit, I have also had many families call just to thank me for my service. It appears patients are more grateful for nurses today, as well. I will never forget the patient, an army veteran, whom I had to transfer to a higher-acuity floor because he was quickly decompensating. As he struggled to breathe, he pulled down his oxygen mask and thanked me for coming to work. He called me a hero and told me to stay safe. I could not believe it. This man went to war for our county, fought against terrorists on the battlefield, and yet he was calling me the hero. He has given me hope for the future of mankind.
All our worlds have changed, each in their own way due to the coronavirus. The few stores that remain open close much earlier now. Little League has been cancelled. Summer parades, schools, graduations all have been cancelled. However, conversations will not be cancelled. Relationships, family, love will not be cancelled. Hope and faith will not be cancelled.
Yes, this pandemic has been rough on all of us, but what I have learned is that we all need to lean into the good things that still remain, and that is what is going to get us all through this.
—Julia R., RN
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