Working as a nurse manager, I have had many challenges and trying moments throughout my career. I wear many different hats: nurse, EMT, fire fighter, professor, husband, and father. I am blessed that I have always been able to overcome any challenge thrown my way.
However, Covid-19 may prove to be the one challenge I may not overcome, mentally or physically. Somehow, I am one of the lucky healthcare professionals who has not gotten Covid-19, but the effects of this virus may stay with me forever.
I have compared this pandemic to the likes of 9/11, which is the reason I became an EMT/fire fighter and ultimately a nurse. Many of my colleagues around me unfortunately have gotten sick from Covid-19, adding additional stress to middle management. This has led to me to cover multiple units, flip from day shift to night shift, and put in 16-plus hour days, seven days a week.
While I have many hats outside of nursing, every day now I have to assume the role of leader, mentor, frontline nurse, nursing assistant, and transporter.
Those of us in leadership positions already struggle with work-life balance. This pandemic added an additional struggle: the emotional strain of home life, supporting the needs of senior leadership, as well as the physical and emotional needs of the front line staff, who are engrossed in Covid-19 and their need to protect themselves while providing the best care they can for their patients.
I’m reminded of the article in these pages a few weeks ago by a nurse who used only her first name, Emily. She wrote about needing to reuse a N95 mask – and that struck a chord.
The anxiety and frustration of a leader potentially putting his staff in harm’s way is overwhelming. A leader has to trust and support his instructions in times of crisis, hoping that the information it is based on is valid. He must support and relay messages to the front line staff and field any concerns they may have.
What we are asking the healthcare profession to do is overwhelmingly exhausting, mentally and physically. We are asking skilled staff to go above and beyond the call of duty. We are asking skilled nurses to take care of patients they have not been trained to take care of. We are asking care providers to assist in patient care they have never done before. Because of this forever-changing virus, we are asking them to support the unknown.
My fear is the unknown long-term effects of this pandemic. Of course, I am concerned about the patients. But I am also very much concerned about the healthcare professionals, including myself. About the mental trauma and anguish of having numerous patients die around you. Of waking up every morning achy and sore from providing lifesaving efforts to multiple patients a day. Of waking up every morning anxiety-stricken, not knowing what lies ahead for your upcoming shift. Of waking up in the morning thinking about those healthcare providers who were so overwhelmed with this pandemic and felt it was better to take their own life then to walk away. Who’s going to be next?
But, as a leader, I feel that we always have to find the positives in every situation. Thank G-d, I have been able to. For me, my telemetry nurses and staff have been given the opportunity to experience what it means to be a critical care nurse ever since the hospital converted half my unit to a critical care Covid floor.
We have obtained new technologies and lifesaving equipment. We are able to experience each other at our best and at our worst and have been able to create bonds that will last a lifetime. I am fortunate that I have had friends, families, and strangers come out and support the team, donating PPE, food, or whatever else they could think of.
Having just celebrated Nurses Week, and with the year 2020 being designated as the year of the nurse, I am proud to be a nurse. Regardless of what I have been put through. Regardless of how I will be tested. I can honestly say that there is no other place I would rather be than alongside my fellow healthcare professionals during this pandemic.
My hope is that we remember this pandemic for a long time. My hope is that we continue to remember and value the importance of hand hygiene, the importance of friends and family, and, most importantly, the importance of each hero at the front lines putting him or herself in harm’s way in order to save a life.