I fell asleep the other night feeling so beaten down and defeated. I had tried to scroll mindlessly through my Facebook newsfeed before bed as I used to do to decompress after a long, thirteen-hour shift at the critical care bedside, but it had only succeeded in making me more upset. I wasn’t even mad about the ridiculous post I had seen shared by a friend claiming coronavirus was a “Democratic hoax.” It would have made me mad back in April, when I knew this thing I fought was really real, but at this point, as numbers climbed even faster than I had imagined they would, I was just tired. I had erased the very true comments I had written on the aforementioned post, and I had fallen asleep knowing that was just one more thing I had no control over.
I had zero control over the public’s perception of this virus, and even though I had intimate details of what Covid was really like, it didn’t matter. I could change opinions about this about as much as I could about mushrooms being gross. The fact was a lot of people really liked mushrooms, and I had zero chance of making any of those folks agree with me that they were slippery and weird. Touché. I guess what ground my gears was having an appetite for fungi was a matter of preference, but in my book COVID-19 was as sure as the button nose on my masked face. For me, standing in the muck of this mess, it was not debatable.
And so I drifted asleep feeling bummed that public perception was just one more thing I couldn’t control. This concern toppled over the crown of a hundred other uncontrollable factors I held as a nurse during a pandemic. My healthcare peers and I faced a novel virus, new to us all, and we swam through the treacherous waters together. Initially, much fanfare and support had followed the medical community as we stood bravely against this foe. But now? Not so much. Nurses were no longer the darlings of the working world. We were lumped in with all the other exaggerators, seemingly wringing our hands for a bug that experts on social media described as “basically the flu.” I mean, you can’t applaud someone who combats a fake virus.
The thing was/is, I didn’t need applause. But I did desire someone to take our words for it. Instead it seemed a large part of public opinion favored the advice of YouTubers or folks with one-lettered names like ‘Q.’ I couldn’t tell if people were so scared they convinced themselves it was fake, so distracted by the conspiracy theories that they truly believed it was all a political ploy, or so dense that they didn’t care. After all, I had even seen some people in nonclinical healthcare suggest we all go out and catch it.
Just the day prior I had heard such an idea of herd immunity, and while I understood the general premise and points, I could only reply, “I still can’t figure out what makes you the type of person who this affects like a mild case of the flu versus the people whose lungs are attacked and die. Until they figure that out, I don’t want to roll the dice with my family.”
See, that’s the burden bedside nursing carries. The physicians, respiratory therapists, and nurse aids in the trenches too. We all see what it can and does do to a person. Young, old, healthy, sick. Doesn’t matter. It will kill anybody it so desires. We wish we could end this crap already too, but we’re too personally involved with corona to play roulette.
I see people protesting being required to wear a mask in public places. Meanwhile, I’m triple checking the seal on my respirator to make sure I don’t take this virus home to my family. I see people griping about wearing it for a thirty minute shopping trip. Meanwhile I fall asleep with my nose still feeling numb from the pressure of a mask for thirteen hours straight.
The next morning when I arrived at work, all prayed up, and mostly rested up, almost immediately someone asked me what was wrong. You see, I’m the singing nurse, the smiling nurse, the uplifting one who always lightens dark moods. So when I’m not exuding those things, it’s noticeable. After a second person asked, I realized I was suffering from the side effects of a pandemic. No, I wasn’t sick with a virus, but I was sick with the emotional, physical, and mental toil of the virus. You can only exist in so much uncertainty, sickness, and sadness before you succumb.
I thought of the patient who breathlessly called family to say quickly, “well, they’re putting me to sleep for a while. Talk to you soon.”
The memory left my heart hurting, and I recalled how at the time my eyes had met those of a coworker, both of us hoping that was true, but knowing that statistically and according to gut feeling, the patient likely would not wake up again. And that’s the biggest battle we face. That was what kept us awake at night. That’s what might create future PTSD for many, and it’s what made my spirit feel so heavy since this had begun. The rising case numbers, incidents, and COVID admissions only worsened an already aching heart. It was the thing we wanted to control the most, but the one thing that sadly we could not. No matter how hard we tried. People were dying, a lot of them, and for those accustomed to healing, this bitter pill was especially hard to swallow.
The side effects to COVID-19 on healthcare workers are multifaceted. They’re not just placing their physical bodies at risk, or even that of their families. They are also investing their hearts. The emotional and mental toil cannot be imagined unless you have faced it head on personally. I am a veteran, and I don’t use this term loosely, but I do consider this a battlefield of sorts. Nursing is fighting a war, one they feel they are losing, both at the bedside and in the court of public opinion. We’ve got battle scars already. I can’t imagine how it will feel down the road.
So, if you see a nurse, please cut them some slack. If they’re sharing about the benefits of social distancing, hand hygiene, or wearing a mask, realize it’s because they care. They’re not pushing any hidden agenda, playing politics, or even in on the “government hoax.” The fact is, we’ve seen far too much death already, we anticipate to see much more, and we want to prevent that if at all possible. There’s so much with this pandemic we cannot control, but maybe we can help save a life.
And for goodness sake, stop trying to convince us it’s not a big deal or as bad as the media says! I don’t even watch the news. But I do believe what my eyes tell me. And right now, sometimes through tears, they tell me we have to work together to stop this thing. Please.