What does nursing through a global pandemic feels like? I hesitate to share more about my nursing career, especially pertaining to Covid, as this is such a personal subject to me. I would like to start this blog by saying that these thoughts, opinions, experiences, and views are 100% my own.
I have never been an overly anxious person. If you would have asked me prior to 2020 how I felt about my mental health, I would have said I felt that it was excellent. Mid 2021, ask me the same question and I would tell you I’m at rock bottom… ask me the next day and I’d tell you rock bottom has a basement. I can’t even begin to express how genuine I am being when I say nursing through covid has been the most challenging thing I have yet to do.
March 2020 was the worst I thought it was going to get. The hospitals cleared out in anticipation for what was to come. We would see the daily news in China, Italy, and in New York City, and we would wait. Wait for our ICUs to fill, wait for redeployment, wait for the worst. But we kept waiting. Nothing happened. Instead, people used Emergency Rooms for true Emergency’s and everyone else was staying home. Our room’s never filled and we spent working at lower capacity in the hospital. Those were the good days. People put up signs thanking healthcare heroes. People delivered food, gave away free merchandise, and recognize nurses for what we are – everyday heroes.
And then, for awhile, things at the hospitals went back to “normal”. Our beds filled and the emergency room had more people coming and going. Life at work was as close to pre-pandemic as it could have been. However, I was experiencing alienation in my day-to-day life. I was turned away for appointments and services because no one wanted to be in the same room as the “frontline worker exposed to Covid”. Family and friends were more resistant to see me, and it was lonely… but I understood.
THEN, we went into lockdown after lockdown. Rescheduling photoshoot after photoshoot, wedding after wedding. It was heartbreaking, but I knew my time and energy needed to be focused on work at the hospital. All the while, I was missing my family, my friends, my clients, and craving “normalcy”.
At work, visitors were (and still are) strongly moderated and mostly restricted. I get yelled at by patient’s, their family’s, sometimes the physicians’s about not being able to allow visitors. Mostly everything I used to love about my job has changed. Interacting closely with patient’s and their family’s, spending a little extra time with them and getting to know them. Now, we were clustering care, overheating in PPE, and there’s no end in sight. That’s the hardest part, no end to the madness.
NOW, we are in our third lockdown and we are seeing what we expected in March 2020. We’re getting the surge of patients, our beds are full. Only this time, we don’t have the staff available. Pandemic nursing has burned out so many nurses. After years of being underpaid and under appreciated, nurses are leaving the bedside and are un-replaceable. So what now? You can’t train a nurse overnight. So, we work short. Our patient’s don’t get extra time with us. Our day to day tasks barely get accomplished. We come home, fall into bed, and do it all again.
I can’t even begin to explain how exhausting a 12 hour shift is when you run around all day. It’s even more exhausting when you leave work and think to yourself “what else could I have done?”. I am sleeping longer hours, more irritable, and finding less joy in the simplicities that used to bring me the most joy. I would take time off, but there is no one to replace me. Besides… where would I go? So, I do what I have to do. I sleep, drink more coffee, and I go to work.
My co-workers are my heroes. They are kind, selfless, caring people. They are the bright light of every work day. We all share the same common ground. We are people called to help others. So helping others we will continue to do.
The greatest feeling of sadness for me came 2 weeks ago, when I lost a patient I cared a great deal for and their family member asked if they could give me a hug. Strictly speaking, I SHOULD have said no. But I am a caring and compassionate nurse, and I needed that hug too. So I said yes. And then I realized…
That is the FIRST person (besides Justin) I have hugged in months. I couldn’t even tell you how long it’s been. And as an affectionate and loving person, realizing that broke me.
I understand the need for the lockdowns, and believe me, I am respecting them. I know many people are feeling tired, burned out, frustrated, and so much more. Not just nurses. We are taking everything one day at a time and hoping for better days ahead.
I, for one, cannot wait for the day when I can see your smiling faces up close, wrap you in my arms, and be close to you again.
You should watch out though… I might not let go.