The light above the door begins to blink as the speaker in the hall starts its sharp unending march of tones. “I got it, you can turn it off,” I shout down the hallway as I push up out of the chair. First is the mask, I feel the straps dig into my cheeks, my neck, the back of my head. I pinch the metal strip across the bridge of my nose, already bruised from previous wears, while taking a series of deep breaths in and out to check the seal. “Good,” I think to myself, “feels snug.” I pull the plastic blue gown over my head, unfolding its slick material over my front as I pull the ties around my back and tie them neatly at my waist.
The face shield settles over the straps of my mask; smears of disinfectant streak across my vision as I don a pair of gloves. The door clicks open and I’m assaulted by the cacophony of noises from inside. The loud whir of the filtration system used to create negative pressure sitting in the corner mixes with sounds of the local news playing on the television. “Hey,” I peer around the corner, “you pushed the call light?” She speaks, but I’m unable to hear through the noise and layered fabric of my scrub cap so I move the bedside table to lean in close. “Can I have some water?” she strains over the din. “Of course, of course. Give me a few and I’ll bring you some,” I reply as I start to doff my gear to exit the room, remembering to clean my hands as I close the door. The cool air of the hallway sweeps around me in the absence of the gown, the sounds of the room drift softly through the cracks of the door.
These past few weeks have been difficult, being so far away from home during a time when everything seems so uncertain has been hard. Some days it seems the world has turned completely upside-down with chaos reigning as queen. Then some days I ground myself in conversations with my loved ones about the weather, my dog and cat, about my plans for what’s next and it seems like I’m not so far away from home. As a nurse, things have become more challenging. Simple tasks have become obstacle courses of donning and doffing PPE while navigating makeshift airborne precaution rooms. Our dedication to our patients’ comfort and safety has become a tangled network of bundling care and intuitive timing.
While the hospital corridors here are beginning to return to a state of normalcy, the overbearing sense that nursing as a whole has permanently changed remains thick in the air. COVID-19 may be pulling back, but nurses will still face challenges and the fear of the unknown. Will there be another uptick in cases? Will we have enough staff and PPE if there is? What are hospitals going to do in the future to protect us? Is COVID going to be an illness we see in our patients for the rest of our careers? How much more can I handle, mentally, physically, and emotionally, caring for people who are so ill under such circumstances?
As I look forward to returning home in a couple weeks, I can’t help but wonder what the future of nursing will look like. How do we return to our regular routines in the wake of a crisis? I never imagined I’d see so many men and women display the level of strength, courage, dignity, and compassion under such strenuous circumstances as I have these past two months. I have always known the quiet strength of nurses. Watching the dedication of my mom to her art as a neonatal intensive care nurse taught me much of that strength. No matter what nursing as a profession faces in the future, I know there will be dedicated women and men who will show up at the bedside to care for other people’s loved ones and friends.
It has been an honor to work alongside these nurses here on Long Island. Their strength, resolve, and kindness have been inspiring. While not much is open, I’ve enjoyed exploring local parks, the food from many local restaurants, and the neighborhood where I’ve stayed in Flushing. I will definitely have memories to take back to South Carolina with me.
Remember to say a prayer for your nurse friends who are unsure of the future, and for a world that is broken, divided, and trying to heal. Until next time, much peace to you all.