I see the apprehension as I step into your room. You aren’t familiar with seeing me this way, with so many layers of protection donned between us. Your eyes possess a fear that I am not accustomed to either. “How many are there like us?” she asks, clinging to her coughing child. “You aren’t alone, mama,” I say in my own attempt to comfort her. I can see her holding her breath when she inquires, “Anything back yet?” and after refreshing the results tab once more, “nothing yet” is all I can offer her.
The television in every room blares with breaking headlines. Even those patients not awaiting a test result verdict seem on edge. “Why won’t they let my husband up?” another asks. “I am so sorry, it is just precautionary right now,” I explain, feeling heartbroken she is left alone at a loved one’s bedside, anxious and consumed with fear of bad news. I try to brighten the topic. I search my mind for anything that could feel normal. Even the mundane would be welcomed at this point. The weather is always safe, and by looking at the cheerful sun rays peeking through the window you would never know a silent storm is brewing.
As nurses, we are familiar with change. Everyday protocols and policies are different from the day before. We know during times of disaster we must sacrifice. While others go home to be with family, bracing for severe weather or other threats, we go towards the frontline of whatever issue is at hand. Though in recent days, we have been navigating uncharted territory. With a new virus comes a new presentation. It is challenging and stressful to keep your eyes peeled for a disease process that you have never witnessed. With this uncertainty comes a thirst for knowledge. Many of my coworkers, myself included, have dedicated time long after our shifts have ended, sifting through medical research from surrounding countries, trying to come up with solutions. Because that is who we are, problem solvers.
We are a breed that when information is not available, we seek it out ourselves. We finish our shifts and lay awake at night, trading our time to rest for the opportunity to discover better ways to serve our patients.
We are a breed that comes home and scrubs our skin until it hurts, hoping that our effort prevents the spread of infection.
We are a breed that separates from our own children and families to protect them from whatever we may have been exposed to and unknowingly may be carrying.
And in that same sense, we are a breed that gets up for the next shift, with grace and a motivated mindset to do it all again, in hopes of making a difference in our communities.
When no one else can be at your side, you will find us there. With a gloved hand and an aching heart, we hurt with you. From the equipment shortage to the lack of available research, frustration is in overabundance. We long to care for you like we know we can and we fight every day to do so.
I think a fellow coworker from the frontline said it best: It is not that we nurses don’t have the option to stay home, frankly- it’s that we don’t want to!