Well, I guess that’s it, huh? CDC said we can go without masks (to the vaccinated), and you see businesses everywhere taking down their “masks required” signs. Disney World is taking advantage of our good numbers in the U.S., and while I’m just as excited as anybody to return to a normal, pre-covid world, I’m also having a hard time.
When mask mandates fall, plexiglass partitions are taken down, and social distancing requirements are slackened, it doesn’t just usher in the happy feelings of going back to the good ole days like I would hope. You see, it also feeds the wrong fires, and it perpetuates bad theory.
Who doesn’t know someone who thinks COVID-19 was a political ploy?! Like, I could probably count on both hands, and have to take off my shoes too, to total the Facebook friends who are certain the pandemic was an attempt at government control of its people; without them even noticing that a lot of the behavior in 2020 proved maybe a little government overreach was necessary. But that’s another topic. No wonder the Podcast I listened to earlier called social media “Satan’s cesspool.”
Point is, as the pandemic blows over, the chance of forgetting its seriousness flies away like the wind as well. It’s easier to lessen the virus when it’s not affecting anyone you know. When it’s a distant, news story from India, it’s fairly simple to blame the Democrats for going overboard to keep people safe. Heck, you could even believe COVID-19 was never really a big deal. Except… it was. To me, it was.
I am a critical care nurse, and in the year 2020 I experienced the worst year of my nursing career. I would even go so far as to say it was worse than my time in the military, in a post 9/11 world, watching scores of young men medevaced to my facility with only one limb remaining. At least the brave soldiers I saw in my stateside care lived. Not so with the Covid pandemic.
I personally saw hundreds in our facility’s care die. Not just old people, or people with multiple health problems. I especially remember the mother of three children who was younger than me. I tried to warn her she might die if she didn’t lay in a prone position. At the time, it was the thing that seemed to help those patients the most. The next day, she was intubated. A week later, she was gone. It was like that for way too many patients this past year.
I watched my coworker dress out in PPE to hug her husband goodbye before he died. I cried on the phone with more family members than my heart could take. I saw the hope go out of otherwise strong men’s eyes. Each day they fought in vain to breathe, the light in their eyes dimmed more and more. It was a fight they couldn’t win. And sadly it was a fight the nursing community couldn’t win either.
As a nurse, my job is to make people better. In my twenty years of nursing, I did a two year stint in Hospice Nursing. Y’all, I loved it. It was extremely rewarding to care for patients and families during a difficult end of life experience. I was able to prepare, support, and comfort them. All that to say, it wasn’t the morgue being too full to take any more bodies that got to me. As a nurse, I can handle patients dying. The problem with the past year was, they all died. If you came into the intensive care unit, you were only leaving in a bag! Back to the counting fingers… I can count on one hand how many patients got to leave my critical care unit alive. That’s bad odds.
Nursing care is about helping. No one wanted to die of COVID-19! They wanted to live! And when we became (like) Hospice nurses to patients and families who had not requested those services, it was debilitating to the morale. Y’all, I still have PTSD-like response from 2020. My actions, even now, as the virus statistics improve, are impacted negatively by the trauma I experienced watching patients die, over and over, every shift, day after day.
I am a woman of faith. When churches began to open back up, I didn’t take my family back. I had seen too much! It wasn’t fear winning out over my faith. It was my trauma response. But you haven’t heard the worst part. I still haven’t taken my family back to church, but it’s no longer the corona virus that whispers to me to stay at home. It’s a whole other form of PTSD. It’s the response of people that has given me a lasting trauma. With the vaccine, time, and herd immunity, I can move past COVID-19. But the careless words, hateful attitudes, and selfishness of some, fellow Christians has created a lasting trauma in my life. It’s hard for me to share in fellowship with people who laugh at a virus that made 2020 the worst year of my life as an RN. I’ve just been worshipping God at home with my husband. God, my spouse, and my fellow critical care nurses seem to be some of the few who understand why my heart was broken into pieces this past year.
I’m glad we are returning to a life without a pandemic. I’m happy to see my patients transfer out of critical care, and on their way to recovery again! I want my children to play with other kids, and I want my loving husband to go back to striking up friendships with strangers. I miss his outgoing self! I think these things are possible. I know they are! But then there are the things that I don’t think can return to before.
I can’t forget the way people spoke so nonchalantly and uncaring about the death of >550,000 American citizens, or over 3 million people worldwide! I watched friends be more concerned with having to wear a piece of paper over their face for twenty minutes of shopping than they were for the possible health outcome statistically of their neighbors over 65 years of age. Citizens worried more about their “personal rights,” as they perceived them, than they were staving off the spread of a disease that had healthcare workers going beyond the possibility of what they could do. I remember reaching a wall of what I felt I could handle as a nurse in 2020. Then we busted right through that mother, to the point I recall in tears asking a coworker, “is this real life?!”
We were drowning, and no one cared! Our patients were dying, and no one cared! And now, things are getting better, causing some folks to say COVID-19 wasn’t a big deal. And no one seems to care!! Except me, my coworkers, and the families of the 3 million dead people. We seem to care. We seem to remember the past year wasn’t just a political ploy to oust Trump, reform gun control, or God-forbid, raise gas prices.
I don’t guess I have much more in me to say right now than that. It’s exhausting and it’s heartbreaking. Just when I think my heart is healing, callous words step on the broken pieces.
My husband told me earlier, “Brie, people just don’t know. They’re ignorant.”
To which I replied, “I wish I was too. I would rather be ignorant to the reality of a pandemic than have gone through what I did as a nurse in Covid Critical Care in 2020.”
So, if you see a nurse friend with a distant, haunted look while you discuss the government’s mishandling of the pandemic, try and understand why. It was so much more than you’ll ever know to those it touched personally. I do believe politicians play circumstances like a fiddle, and I know things were and are still mishandled in regards to COVID-19, but we have to be bigger than that. We, as human beings, have to rise above politics and the noise of this world to care compassionately about one another. If anything could return to normal after a pandemic, maybe it could be that.