“God’s got this.”
“He holds you in the palm of His hand.”
“None of this is a surprise to God.”
“Heaven, help us.”
These are the sentiments spoken in response to what critical care nurses like myself are seeing, and while these comments are absolutely true in my book, they don’t quite give me the reassurance I’m hoping for. It’s not that the thoughts and prayers aren’t appreciated; because, they are! My spirit thrives on them, and His strength makes all things possible. But after hearing the well-meant words of others, especially after a brutal day, it occurred to me what the human side of me really wants.
I want people to understand.
I can’t really blame them, though. Other than my spouse, I’m usually pretty nondescript when it comes to my day. When asked how it’s going during a pandemic, we’ll use bland words like “hard” or “bad.” Perhaps even “exhausting.” Yet those simple syllables say little to what’s really going on. I’m not sure if it’s too painful to rehash or just easier to say less. I think, for many nurses, after having close acquaintances, or even family members, act over the past year and a half like Covid is not a big deal, it makes you place a wall around yourself. To see folks neglect simple things like masks, or to chastise vaccines and science, it makes you crawl inside a hole. Then, later, when you need someone to understand how you’re feeling, they don’t.
They don’t understand.
Other than my spouse, and a few family and friends I’m comfortable enough to share the intimate aspects of my day, no one understands the pain of what I see. Deep down, I don’t want them to. I don’t want that for anyone. But sometimes, I just wish I could open a curtain into my ICU for the world to see. I think we wouldn’t have another record-breaking surge going on if I could. Maybe I wouldn’t feel like crying, like I did yesterday, all alone in my angst. Even when the tears don’t come, because I’m too afraid to let them loose, worried that I won’t be able to rein them back in.
As it stands, in lieu of a magic window, you’re left with the fact that no one understands, unless they’ve been behind the curtain with you.
Words like “hard“ don’t accurately depict what it’s like to watch people slowly die of a virus that takes away their ability to breathe. “Bad” isn’t adequate to describe the fear in their eyes of dying with a feeling of cruel suffocation.
When you hear the “numbers are going up,” you don’t see the numbers I see going down. The oxygen saturation numbers that keep alarming too low to oxygenate the blood and sustain life. They don’t tell you on the news (no matter the network) what it feels like to watch a person turn gray, and blue, and purple. They don’t describe the feeling of your hands when ribs crack beneath them during CPR, no more than they tell about the hopeless feeling in your heart when a family member asks you over the phone if the patient is getting better.
I’ve never fought such a losing battle, and it’s hard to put that into words. When you’re in the business of healing, Critical Care Covid doesn’t play by the rules, and it just ends up feeling like a bad luck streak that won’t break. Does anyone understand how hard that is on us?!
I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that personally my heart is broken. It’s excruciating watching people suffer. It’s beyond demoralizing when the majority don’t get better. I’m angry at people who ignore the suffering of others. I’m pissed that this is still happening! I’m frustrated at staffing problems, and I totally understand why nurses are fleeing the bedside in droves.
The thing is, I can write out all of the above, and most people still won’t understand. Not totally. Until you live it, until you can’t unsee the things you wish you had not seen, and until you spend your off days in a depressed daze, despite your best efforts, you’ll never understand. For your sake, I’m glad you don’t.