Written by Stephanie Wolfner
2020: Year of the Nurse.
2020: COVID-19 Pandemic.
2020: My 12 year anniversary as a Registered Nurse.
Where do I start? My heart bleeds so many emotions regarding all of this. So much heaviness weighs on my soul. As trauma often does, it resurfaces unexpectedly and other times recurs unsurprisingly. Trauma does not take the mold of a certain shape and it often does not look the way one anticipates. Trauma is such a loaded word. It is entangled with the complexity of processing your new world, while combining one’s emotional side with one’s rational cognitive thought. The heart and the brain often speak and think very differently.
Since this pandemic started, I’ve heard so many things being said about nurses. On one hand, I am overwhelmed with positivity from the large group of people who are grateful for nurses. In contrast, I’ve been deeply hurt by those who have chosen to verbalize negative remarks regarding the nursing profession. I encourage myself to ignore these irrelevant, ignorant few, but I struggle with this. I am honored to be a nurse and to work amongst nurses. You’re the best group of people anyone could ever know.
As a kid, I was in-and-out of the hospital a lot. This exposed me to many healthcare professionals and I fell in love with my nurses. I remember being struck with awe. My nurses would seamlessly complete a medical intervention while maintaining calm and somehow turn my fear into courage. Nursing is truly a form of art. From being a patient, I know that when you really need help, nurses are the ones at the bedside, holding your hand through all of the pain. Nurses are the ones in your room, at your bedside, the majority of the time. As a child, I knew I wanted to be that person when I grew up. The one holding your hand as you experience pain; Providing a comforting presence during a profound moment in time, when no words available could possibly describe the pain you feel in your heart. I never wanted to be outside of the room. I’ve always wanted to be with you, on the front line.
In 2013, my husband had a terrible road cycling crash that landed him in the Neurological Intensive Care Unit for 8 days. Being on the “other side” was eye opening. My appreciation for what nurses and doctors do increased exponentially in a way I could have never understood without having walked this particular path. I was working my shift on the Pediatric Oncology Unit when I got the call that my husband had been in a cycling accident. He was triaged from the Emergency Department to the Neuro ICU. I cannot properly describe the importance of Mike’s nurse that day. There I am in this nightmare. I’m signing consent for my husband to have emergency brain surgery. I’m standing next to my husband’s Neuro ICU nurse, in what I hoped would be his post op ICU room. His nurse turned to me and hugged me so tightly; To this day I can still feel his warm compassion. I wailed, crying so loudly, with a pain in my heart no words can describe. This nurse was hugging a 27 year old wife who very well may lose the love of her life in an instant. I know that cry because I was the wife. I know that cry, because I’ve held patients and family members as they’ve suffered unimaginable pain. I know the emotional sacrifice that nurse made in order to be present with me. I understand the emotional weight that nurse carried when they went home that day. I also know that nurse would be there for me 1000 times over, because that is what nurses do and it is the type of humans they are at their core.
Nurses are everything. Nurses balance increasingly complex patient assignments. Critical thinking is an essential job function. Performing assessments, providing and coordinating your care, constantly advocating for you. The ‘To-Do’ lists and required documentation (on charting systems that are rarely user friendly) are never ending. They interact with patients and families from all walks of life. Working with the public is a part of their everyday life. It is difficult to tell a nurse a story that is shocking, especially the longer they’ve been doing this job. Nurses will be the first to give you the shirt off their back and think of everyone else before they think of themselves. I can’t tell you the amount of shifts I have worked without drinking enough water or eating enough food. I’m not proud of this, but rather want you to understand, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you. Some days I come home from work, knowing I did everything I could and still…I wish I could have done more. Some days I feel helpless in this feeling. I cognitively can comprehend that often medicine has its limitations and that the human body can only endure so much, but my heart bleeds with desire, wishing I could have saved your child. I would have given anything to have saved your child. My heart aches for you in a way that never quite resolves, knowing that you will never be able to hold your baby again. I carry this with me and I show up to work again-and-again, with intention of honoring the life your child lived by caring for kid-after-kid in the maximized capacity that I can as a nurse. We carry your child with us in our hearts in all that we do and we never forget them.
This pandemic has highlighted what nurses do. We show up. Even when we are terrified. Even at the cost of not seeing our children. Even when we aren’t properly protected because the supply chain of PPE doesn’t allow for us to use PPE appropriately. We show up and give 100%, because it is who we are. I do not properly understand it, but I do know…we are just wired this way. We do what is right, even when no one is looking.
As our world changes, please respect our nurses and healthcare workers. We went into this because we indeed are wired differently. Please help us by signing petitions and pressuring our federal government to provide us with PPE to ensure that we can be protected. Please call/write to your state senator and demand that healthcare providers get the proper PPE they need and demand that the feds stop making the states compete against one another for these life protecting supplies.
In my 12 years of nursing, I never thought this is where I would be, but here I am and here we are. Thank you nurses for all that you do. I can only continue to aspire to be one amongst you and honored to collectively know the hearts and souls of each and every one of you. You’re the most beautiful human beings on this planet and I see you.