In 1991 when my daughter was born with anencephaly, I agreed to participate in a 10-year March of Dimes study about neural tube defects. At that time, I had not yet become a nurse, but my brother was a physician, my sister a pharmacist, my Mom was working in a busy Detroit hospital Emergency Room, and my dad was continuing to suffer from a blood disorder. My family was always steeped in the medical world in one way or another – so how could I not participate in a study that would benefit someone else or potentially save a life ? (And it did, by the way – help many).
I never dreamed I would have that chance again – to participate in another study that would help others. But tomorrow several of my work colleagues and I have appointments to have our blood drawn looking for antibodies for the coronavirus. (I refuse to capitalize it). It feels like the first of many throat punches I plan to give this evil thing that has slithered its way into all of our lives this past month. In the words of my friend Tiffany, I’ve never wanted so badly to test positive for something before. I’m excited.
I have not enjoyed many days off as of late – not because I haven’t had them, but because I haven’t really been as disciplined as I should be about guarding and protecting my TIME. Today, I hated having to do it, but I actually had to tell people I needed to end conversations, change subjects, or just not talk at all. I can’t do politics right now, I can’t talk about how awful your quarantine has been and how bored you are, or about the five pounds you’ve put on from baking, or how you feel about Trump. And by no means am I minimizing how horrible it’s been for all of us being separated from those we love. I know. I get it. I live alone. The only human contact I’ve had since the beginning of March and our first COVID-19 patient, has been from my work friends and my COVID-19 patients.
Someone sent me a text the other day complaining about something so trivial that I don’t even remember what it was. My response was, “Two of my friends are very sick with COVID, another is currently in ICU hoping not to get intubated, one of my friends died on Wednesday, and I’m on day three with the same N-95 mask. Other than that, nothing much else is new.” I know it was sarcastic. I know. It was the 1st indicator of my need for a day off, and some time in prayer!
My friend Sarah called, and when I picked up the phone I just cried. “Please, please don’t make me talk about COVID!” And she didn’t. She’s kind like that.
I couldn’t work any extra this week. I just couldn’t. Anger kind of took over for a couple of days and I was quite short fused. I’m still working on that short fuse.
Who would have known the gamut of emotions one could go through in just one short month of caring for ICU COVID patients? I remember feeling scared, excited, fired up, pooped out, depressed, encouraged, defeated, and a number of other emotions – sometimes all in one day. But anger really took hold this week for a number of different reasons, some I’ve identified, others – not yet. Honestly – I might need some help with that.
Having to venture out into the public once this week was horribly ugly, and made me want to scoop up all the people I love and bring them into the COVID virus-infected hospital so that they could see the BEAUTY I get to see every single shift – from the families and friends of mine and my coworkers. I love Michigan, and I love my community. They are taking care of us like none of us could have ever imagined. I’ve not seen beauty and kindness like this ever in my life like I see now. I wish you could see what I see. My friends have given me hundreds of masks and hats for my friends at work. My other friend Monica has kept many local restaurants in business by purchasing over 10,000 meals for health care workers. I have come home every single night to a meal on my porch. My son in Chicago – his church sent me an email saying they are praying for me. I’m crying even as I write this, overwhelmed by the good God has allowed me to see! I don’t want it to end…….
Nobody is arguing or fighting in the hospital. My co-workers are my family right now. Where we fall politically has no place in the care of our patients. We’re helping each other in ways we never thought we’d have to.
A typical day is when one nurse runs into the break room crying because she wanted her patient she’s been caring for now three straight days to make it, but he just took a turn for the worse. She cries feeling completely defeated, collapses into the arms of her friend, the unit social worker, who holds her until she finally says, “I can’t breathe,”…….
Another co-worker is visibly shaken after having to watch a mother and son cry loudly via FaceTime as they say goodbye to a son and brother…….. and she just has to clean up the room and prepare for the next patient…..
Another patient looks me in the face, grasps my hand and begs me to help them breathe…… And then they get intubated – for the 2nd time.
Last night I drove up to the hospital entrance to meet a co-worker from the night shift and drop off 10 dozen home made cookies from a friend. A young couple runs out crying hysterically and then stop to hold each other and just cry out loudly. I spoke with them momentarily. Their small child is in Pediatric ICU with COVID.
Our employer told us this week that this is normal nursing – it’s not hazardous, it’s normal, and we should be grateful that we have a job……
But our N-95 masks that we used to be allowed to wear only once, is now good indefinitely (even though it’s hanging off of our chins, smells like vomit, and our glasses get all fogged up because there is no longer a seal) – so we know we’re inhaling the virus all day long…..
It is really difficult to get in your car after these long days and take a phone call from someone complaining about not being able to buy paint.
I think you should be able to buy paint. I truly do. I just can’t listen to you talk about it right now. I can’t. Please try to understand. Maybe in July.
A month ago I was writing out all of my account numbers with passwords, just in case I contracted this virus and it killed me. I let my sister know what my wishes were regarding a ventilator. (And for the record – so that it’s documented in multiple places – I DON’T WANT ONE! EVER!). I called people to let them know I loved them. I mended a broken friendship of 35 years. I wrote a letter to my kids and sealed it. I wrote down the songs I would want played at my Memorial. I went through photos so my kids wouldn’t have to put together picture boards. My friends at work and I joked about making sure our homes were clean, our legs were shaved, and our chin hairs plucked. (Nursing humor – if you’re not one of us, this will probably either disgust you or go over your head).
My co-workers and I are exhausted – physically, emotionally, spiritually, and in ways we don’t even realize yet. But just about every one I know has signed up to get tested to see if they have the antibodies, in the hopes that they might be able to help someone else. I know some pretty amazing people, and many of them are going to be in line with me tomorrow. Just another glimpse of beauty – my coworkers thinking about others, putting others before themselves, understanding the value of someone’s life they may never meet……. Without having had a COVID-19 pandemic, would we have ever seen such beauty?
Last night I walked out of work after shift change to a three-mile long “Parade of Thanks.” There were fire engines, paramedics, EMT’s, police vehicles, even helicopters! Loud speakers were thanking EVERY Beaumont employee, and making all kinds of noise. That just made me want to turn around, march right back into the hospital, and go back to work. I love my job. Have I mentioned already? I. love. my. “job.”
I think I’m beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And even if I’m not, please don’t correct me. I need to just believe this tonight, okay?
Check out this video from our very own very much loved Dr. Sims at Beaumont Royal Oak!
And while I’m at it, consider supporting Gift of Life Michigan!