A Nurse in Falls Church
"I fear getting sick, but I am even more terrified that I will infect my family. I haven't hugged my kids in weeks."
Editor’s Note: The author of this essay asked to remain anonymous. We are honoring that request.
There are no emergencies during a pandemic.
That lesson, shared by a nurse who worked during the Ebola crisis, is one we have to learn now.
As a nurse, I am part of a team that provides support during intubations and extubations. No matter how desperately a COVID-positive patient needs care, staff must take the time to fully protect themselves prior to entering a room. This lost time is anguishing for staff, whose first instinct is to provide care.
I am primarily an obstetric nurse. We have started receiving our first positive patients, who bring with them the challenge of a new host of procedures to protect the babies and staff, while also providing the special care that mothers require and deserve.
This is a confusing time for new parents. Many plans they have made throughout their pregnancies are now changing at the last minute, and their support is cut short. The rules regarding skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding change as new evidence emerges, impacting the mother-infant bond. Other patients are fearful of coming into a hospital to deliver.
We work very hard to minimize exposure to a positive patient. That translates to nurses taking on tasks often done by other team members. We bring in meal trays and empty waste containers. Sometimes we bring a phone into the room so doctors can video chat with the patient. It’s not ideal, but why expose multiple staff members when one person can accomplish what’s needed?
As nurses, we understand, but that does not mean we are not afraid. It wears us down. The longer this goes on, I see nurses becoming almost hollow while still doing the best they can.
I fear getting sick, but I am even more terrified that I will infect my family. I have written advance directives. I enter our house in Falls Church in a mask and retreat into my room amid distant yells of “I love you.”
I shower, eat and distract myself with humor in order to dispel the fear. I keep a small fridge and microwave in my room and wash dishes in the bathroom sink to minimize my family’s exposure to me.
I haven’t hugged my kids in weeks. Sometimes we open the doors to our bedrooms and sit where we can see each other at a safe distance.
I miss spending time with my kids. I feel I don’t know what is truly going on inside their minds through this. Am I being a bad mother by trying to be a good nurse? Would I be a bad nurse if I spent less time at work and focused more on my family?
Then I remember: There are no emergencies during a pandemic. I try to support my kids from afar, after a 12- or 14-hour shift. One kid leaves me a meal by the door and I am grateful. My dishes and flat iron sit, side-by-side, on the bathroom sink.
This is the new normal.
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