No One Else Understands
For those that do not know me, my name is Becky Jane, aka the singing, sassy, whistling nurse. My personality is huge, I don't know a stranger, and I am a touchy, huggee, kissy person.
I am the nurse that climbs up in bed with her patients to comfort them, gives the 90-year-old man a kiss on the cheek so he feels loved, and the one that will cry with her patient's when they cry. Most of that still applies, except COVID has changed me.
Over the last 10 months I have experience things I would have never thought was possible. I didn't think COVID was going to be as bad as it is. I said, "oh, this is going to be an exacerbated flu and we will get over this. I mean our government wasn't taking this to seriously, so why should we?”
Oh boy, I was wrong!
For months we waited and waited, prepared and prepped for a surge. We shut down electives and then nurses were actually sent home or redeployed because census was so low. This was so hyped-up in the beginning that patients were waiting to come to the hospital for fear of contracting this virus, and then were extremely ill.
Then it happened, we had our first positive COVID patient. Don't get me wrong, we had PUI's, but nobody knew what to actually expect in the beginning, until our first positive patient.
This man was so kind and sweet. He would talk about his children and how proud he was of them. You could see the pride in his eyes. He just had a cough, some weakness and diagnosis of pneumonia. Then required oxygen, then more oxygen.
This independent man now had to have help walking five feet. His fever climbed, his confusion increased, and his weakness overtook him. He died, away from his loved ones, in the ICU after being removed from the ventilator. This man, a pillar of someone's family, will never be forgotten by me; his white hair and beautiful soul.
I said, "oh, this is going to be an exacerbated flu and we will get over this. I mean our government wasn't taking this to seriously, so why should we?”
We had a break, a long break. We still took precautions and followed all the guidelines. We exceled at working under pressure in new ways that it ultimately has become the new normal. Then our surge hit. Our Acute Respiratory Care Hospital (ARCH) was at its max.
We had to start taking positive COVID patients. What we consider stable became unstable. The smiles were few. The seclusion profound. The thought every time a patient was admitted was, "is this patient going to live?" Days turned to weeks and now weeks have turned to months and our surge is finally tapering off.
It changed me. Taking care of your friends loved ones is difficult. Reassuring family members without giving false hope is heart breaking. Leaving the iPad on so the family can "spend" as much time with their loved one as possible because ultimately everyone knows what the outcome is going to be.
Developing relationships with patient's that were on the unit for days, even weeks and then knowing when they make the decision to go on the ventilator, they will most likely never come off. Learning time of death on that same patient was just a few hours after you transferred them to a higher level of care. Not truly understanding why some live and others have died when their symptoms are identical.
Speaking to the sister and husband of the woman just admitted and informing intubation is the only option, because her work of breathing is so profound, she is soaking wet with sweat and maxed on 100 % Airvo and 15 L NRB mask, then learn she died. Having your own family members on the unit and then having them pass within five days of each other.
Having to stand at the bedside of a father while one child holds his hand as he passes and the other is on FaceTime. Watching your coworkers struggle with COVID and then some have residual side effects. But it’s not just COVID, it’s the world in general.
People are short tempered and less patient. Frustrated and burnout. The world is simply off. We have witnessed and experienced so much change and devastation, what is actually "normal" anymore?
I write this not for sympathy, as I know Nurses, Physicians, and Healthcare Workers across the world are experiencing the same thing. I write this because I truly did not realize the lasting effects it had on me until this weekend.
We decided to leave town and go to our country property in a gated community this past weekend. It's beautiful and it snowed, which means it was even more beautiful. There was a small get together, approximately 15 people. At first when it was just two or three people, I was ok.
Then as the rest showed up my anxiety grew. I got up and left the table. I began to sweep the floors and work in the kitchen. I was taking care of the children instead of sitting by my husband. I had my mask on and continued washing my hands, but I haven't been around hardly anyone, except for my parents and coworkers in almost a year.
If we have been around people it has been outside and I still wear a mask. The comment was made, "Didn't you receive your COVID vaccine?", to that my response was Yes, I did", but I still didn't feel safe or protected.
The only place I truly feel protected is work and home. Everything I have seen and experienced has left me with anxiety. It took me almost 90 minutes to work through those feelings. I am proud of myself. I was able to recognize my behavior and begin to correct it, but I also realize the mental health of nurses across the nation may not be "OK".
No one else understands except the people who live it. The derogatory comments about the COVID vaccine, and you're going to turn into a zombie has cause arguments in my own family.
No one else understands the loss we have witnessed.
No one else understands the fatigue we feel.
No one else understands that nurses are ingrained to heal and at times we feel as if we are failing.
No one else understands, because so many do not take this seriously.
No one else, but you, understand what I may be going through, because you have experienced it yourself.
The long shifts. The cry home. The second extra shift that week. The text and calls with questions. The anguish you hear on the other end of the phone. The need to just be alone for a moment. The sore nose and ears. The bone-weary tiredness. The emotional toll. The physical fatigue. The loss of touch. The look of tired eyes behind the mask.
No one else but you understand me. So, I ask you to pray for this anxiety. I ask you to support me as I work to become me again. So, I can step back into the world without the fear of being around others and taking a virus to my parents.
I ask you to take a look at your own mental health and really make sure you are "OK", because my guess is, you are not.
With my greatest love and gratitude, Becky Jane.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rebekah Housman BSN, RN, CMSRN, CVRN-BC, PCCN is a Clinical Ladder III Clinical Staff Nurse, Charge Nurse Passavant Area Hospital, an Affiliate of Memorial Health System.