Sunday, April 26, 2020

"An Eerie Sort of Calm Over New York City ~ COVID-19, A Nurse's Story

An eerie sort of calm has begun to fall over New York City  Not the reassuring kind of calm that signals the return of peace and order, more of an anxiety filled lull.  I’ve watched as the amount of patients in the ER has dropped in the last two weeks from over 100 to 27 yesterday when I clocked out. Empty stretchers line the hallways, nurses are sitting down for what seems like the first time in weeks, doctors scrolling social media at the desk, patients have started to return for minor complaints that seemed to have vanished over the previous month.  But it’s hard to feel exactly hopeful; we have no idea what the coming months will bring.  The idea that “normal” does not exist any more is rightfully terrifying. There is no doubt that there will be a second wave of this, a third… it’s really a race between science and nature.  I understand the frustration of everyone who wants to return to work, to see their friends and loved ones, but I am so terrified of what might happen once people begin gathering in large numbers again.  

I will be haunted forever by some of that I’ve seen in the last 6 weeks.  Coding a patient in a room where he was cohorted with another covid positive patient, watching him watch as we unsuccessfully tried to restart the heart of the man who laid in the bed next to his.  Watching the palliative care doctor facetime with a patient’s family members as they said their goodbyes, and then her turning me and telling me to take the patient off the bipap mask that was keeping her alive at 2 pm, place her on a nasal cannula and push drugs to make her comfortable.  Having to be the last person she heard, holding her hand and telling her that her family loved her, and then having to rush off to try to keep my dozen other patients medicated and safe.  Worse than this, coming around the corner to find that one of my DNR/DNI patients had passed.  Alone.  While I and everyone else was too busy to be by her side.  Living with the guilt that I couldn’t honor her and her family by being beside her.  I did not “sign up for this”. It’s a catastrophe.    

Taking report from a coworker and not being able to control my tears.  13 patients.  All admitted.  Two DNR/DNI on the verge of passing at any moment.  One on a heparin drip.  One on an insulin drip.  Every single one with medications due, labs to be drawn.  No one has eaten.  No one can use the bathroom by themselves.  People are lying in dirty beds, everyone’s dignity shattered but when forced to choose between administering life saving medications and change someone’s sheets, I have to make heartbreaking choices.  What if it were me in that bed, or my own mother?  What we were doing was not nursing.  It’s not “part of the job.”  It’s a war zone.  

Not enough oxygen tanks, not enough IV pumps, not enough non-rebreather masks, not enough pulse oximetry monitors, not enough nurses, not enough med techs, not enough stretchers, not enough hands, not enough medication, not enough isolation gowns, not enough face shields, not enough room in the morgue, not enough thoughts and prayers, not enough leadership, not enough foresight, not enough trust in science.  No amount of you calling us “heroes” makes any part of the mismanagement of this crisis acceptable.  We will carry these scars forever. 

We have to be cautious and patient as we move forward.  We have to embrace a new normal.  Just because you survived the initial onslaught of COVID-19 does not guarantee that you or me will be as lucky a second time.  We cannot be cavalier about our safety and the safety of those around us.  My heart is broken by the images in the media of people calling me and my colleagues liars.  My heart breaks for those whose ignorance will cost them their lives, or worse yet, the lives of those around them who aren’t strong enough to fight this off.  But we are living in a nation guided by a leader who champions ignorance, who has cultivated a false narrative in this nation that equates Americanism with the right to do and say whatever you want regardless of consequence. The blood of those who will continue to fall victim to this virus will be forever on his hands as he willingly encourages his supporters to fight for their right to protest stay at home orders.  

I will keep showing up.  I will keep practicing gratitude every single day for my health and wellbeing, and that of my family and friends.  I will feel the hope that electrifies me at 7 pm when my neighbors open their windows and doors and cheer for all of us on the frontlines fighting for a chance at normal, whatever that will mean.  And I will pray for the day that rational leadership returns to our country.