In the recent weeks COVID-19 has affected us all in many ways. We are each adjusting to a new normal. For some of us this means finding things to keep the kids entertained. Some of us have had to learn how to work from home while our toddlers run around. Some of us really haven’t had to change much besides being unable to go out to dinner. But others have been thrown into something we never could have imagined. This is my perspective.
I am a nurse. I am proud to be a nurse. I have been there for people in the scariest of times. I have held hands with a man when he took his last breath, because he had no family. I have consoled a terrified spouse as we emergently intubated her husband to save his life. I have given countless words of reassurance to families and patients even when I wasn’t sure myself in attempt to calm their nerves. This is what nurses do… it’s my career, and I’ve been doing it for five years.
Over the last few of weeks my job has caused me an immense amount of anxiety. COVID-19 has turned the nursing world upside down. I work in the Intensive Care Unit, so I am experienced at dealing with emergencies and critical care situations, yet these recent weeks have been more stressful than anything I have ever been a part of.
Imagine waking up every day thinking that today might be the day you contract this virus which we still do not know much about. Today might be the day I bring this home to my sweet baby and husband. Then your mind takes you places you never want to go… like what if I get my child sick and there are no ventilators left? What if my husband gets this and isn’t lucky enough to experience only mild symptoms and needs to be hospitalized in a makeshift clinic somewhere because our hospital beds are full? Picture that. Constant turmoil that your job of helping others may kill your own family. That’s what myself and other frontline medical professionals are going through on a daily basis. Imagine going into work to do your job only to find the policies surrounding how to treat patients are altered daily, sometimes multiple times a day. If that’s not frustrating enough, you are told that the precautions for this disease keep changing. It’s solely because the demand for N95 masks is too high, so a surgical mask must suffice in most situations. Imagine being grossly understaffed but still forced to take care of patients.
Regardless of your political standing, our nation’s preparedness for a pandemic has been embarrassing. Proclamations of “We have it totally under control”, “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear”, “When you have 15 people, within a couple of days it will be down to zero” were made at a time when drastic action should have been taken. We had a three-month head start on this disease and we squandered it. Instead of attacking the virus proactively, we are now left to defend ourselves as best we can.
In order to stop the spread, we need to dramatically increase testing. In my hospital, we only have enough tests to administer to those that we are nearly positive have COVID. That leaves millions of asymptomatic carriers or those with mild illness spreading the virus to an average of three people each. Hospitals in the U.S. have approximately 160,000 ventilators which are vital for treatment of severe COVID cases. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, nearly 65% of these were already being utilized. Even the most conservative estimates show demand outpacing available capacity.
It’s terrifying. Everyone says that first responders are heroes but I’m not deserving of that title. Heroes are brave and I would be lying if I told you I was brave. The reality is that I have no choice. We have no choice. Because if not us… then who? I’ve heard many say, “We signed up for this.” I signed up to use my skills to assess patients, titrate lifesaving medications, comfort patients and families during uncertain times, translate medical jargon, make sense of a situation to a patient when they can’t seem to figure it out alone, be empathetic and to care. The list goes on and on. While they are correct that I signed up to be a nurse… what I did not sign up for was to do all of this without the proper protection.
That’s what American nurses are facing and there is zero reason for it. We live in America, the world’s greatest country, and we can’t protect our own as they go to war against an invisible enemy? The threat is real. This is not a political hoax, this is not a joke, COVID patients are here in our local hospitals and many are critically ill. I’ve seen it, and unfortunately you will too. My hospital has told us we have enough PPE (personal protective equipment), but our doctors are saying this is just the tip of the iceberg. We are only permitted to wear N95 masks during certain procedures, otherwise we wear surgical masks even for COVID positive patients. I don’t feel protected, appreciated or advocated for. We receive no extra compensation for putting our own wellbeing and our family’s health on the line.
So, to whoever is reading this, I have some requests:
- Stay home and help flatten the curve because I can’t. If not for your family, do it for mine.
- Encourage medical professionals that you know. Let them know you are thinking of them and praying for them. It goes a long way.
- Don’t take medical advice from Facebook, politicians, or your neighbor.
- Ignore premature assertions of victory, i.e. relaxing of social distancing guidelines by Easter. Reopening the country too soon would cancel any benefit that we have gained. Nothing screams “Pro-Life” more than sacrificing the lives of our grandparents for a few thousand points in the stock market.
- PRAY. Pray that healthcare professionals in the frontlines like me remain steadfast in this fight because it is mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting. Pray for anxious minds and hearts, and that God would give them peace. Pray for protection for them and their families. Pray that we will be able to slow the spread of this virus and not overwhelm our hospital system. Pray that this will come to an end just as quickly as it started.
- Be kind. We are all going through this. It’s affecting us all differently, but we all need to realize that we are each contributing to our combined success. I’m doing my part. You do yours.
I am writing this to ask for your help. We can’t do this alone. Provide your friends and family with reassurance. Tell them it will be okay. I know everyone would like to get back to “normal” but what’s more important right now is the health of our families. So, when you’re thinking about breaking quarantine, please think about my child and his safety. Think about my anxious mind that cries on the way home from work because I’m putting my family at risk to save yours. We can get through this… together. One day and prayer at a time.