It’s January 2021 in the middle of the worst COVID crisis we have seen (so far anyways) in Southern California.
One of my jobs is in a relatively small acute care hospital as a rapid response nurse which basically means I respond to calls for patients that need some sort of rapid assistance.
Normally (read non-COVID era), I start my day by rounding on the various floors in my hospital, saying a quick hello and shining a smile to those both coming and going at change of shift and inquiring about any patients that might need a close eye kept that day. Sometimes, my rounds are interrupted by a “code” called overhead, but that’s not common.
Present days are quite different, however. I rarely have the opportunity to truly round and given my constant n95, covered by surgical mask, plus face shield most people don’t even know it’s me let alone that I am smiling.
Now, my days mostly start with an official “Rapid Response” called overhead, maybe a phone call asking me to come “look” at a patient, OR worse, the day starts with full on “Code Blue”.
Pre-COVID, when a “rapid response” was called, I would arrive to a room to help in an effort to keep a patient stable. I was a bit like a portable intensive care unit and I had a fair amount of tools that would likely help me in keeping the patient alive.
Now, in the era of COVID, when I am called to the bedside, there are typically two scenarios. The patient cannot breathe and is a full code, which means we need to put them on the ventilator OR the patient is a DNR, and I am called to hold hands and assist in the process of calling time of death. Even if, the patient is a full code, the scenario often ends up at time of death despite interventions.
Lately, as I hold those dying hands, I am also praying that I can remain in the room long enough to finish my part in holding space before I am called to do the same function all over again in another room. I hate walking away even though I am called to yet another room where something similar is likely happening.
Perhaps you can start to imagine the toll that this might take on a person. This is certainly not what I have experienced in my 15+ years pre-COVID as a nurse. This is most definitely not what I signed up for when I went to nursing school.
It occurs to me as I attempt to walk through my current days at the hospital that this must be a bit like working / living through a combat situation. Much like many reading this may have no real concept of frontline nursing today, I have no real concept of what it would be like to a soldier on the frontlines yet that is the only thing that I can imagine might be similar.
As far as getting through the day right now, and in keeping with my website theme of burning brighter, I have attempted to focus on how I am still being helpful and useful to others.
For me, I hope that I am helping the patient to transition to a better setting than the one we are in and for the nurse who has called me for help, at least I can do my best to hold the space. Many of the nurses who call me are less experienced or even newly graduated. I cannot imagine just graduating and walking into this nightmare.
Even if this lasts only a short while longer, there are bound to be consequences and fall out from this pandemic to our collective mental health. I know that I have been altered in ways that I cannot even process nor have I really begun to fully unpack.
BUT, for now, in order to stand upright, I focus on how I can be of assistance to my fellow nurses and I pray A LOT.
I don’t have a particular call to action in writing this message. I really just hope to share my perspective.
Thank you for reading and I really do hope that the end is in sight.