Frontline Experience

I write today sitting from my desk at a local clinic. I am a nurse practitioner, it’s Friday and I am ready for the weekend because it’s been a long work week for me. However, I don’t think my week has been as long as others. Of course everyone has the same amount of time in our days. But I think of other health care workers; specifically nurses, physicians, nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, and others who are really on the front lines, in the hospitals, in the ICUs, in the emergency department….their week has been interminably longer than mine.

A clinical assistant told me today that her friend who works at EIRMC broke down in the elevator. She had just been caring for a 20-year-old, with no underlying health conditions, maybe a little overweight, like so many of us. The patient’s lungs were a whiteout on x-ray. She thinks that patient may die.

A registered nurse told me that she personally cared for a woman, intubated in the ICU, whose husband was also intubated. He died, the wife was still alive the last shift my friend worked. But she had to be there to tell that woman that her husband was gone.

In our emergency room in little Teton Valley, a woman was dying while waiting for an open ICU bed somewhere, anywhere. Finally, a bed halfway across the state opened up and she got a chance to live another day.

Last summer someone asked me if I was afraid, caring for others who might pass the virus along to me. I replied that I wasn’t because I was doing everything I could to prevent the spread for myself, my family, and my patients.

I wear a mask every day at work, sometimes all day. Yes, it’s irritating, my hair gets caught in the tight bands and pulls out, my cheeks have pressure marks, and sometimes my nose gets sore. But I do it anyway to protect myself and my patients. I got vaccinated against COVID-19, I was concerned because it’s a new method for vaccine development and not time tested like the other vaccines we’re used to.

But I can honestly say that I feel fine and have likely avoided infection with the Delta wave because I was vaccinated. I have conscientiously tried to mask in public and give people space so that there is less risk of close contact.

I am not scared, but I am worried.

I see nurses and CNAs burning out, I see a foreshadowing of how the pandemic will affect healthcare, maybe forever. We as Americans are used to getting what we want, but what if what we want is simply not available?

We have seen it in the grocery store, the hardware store, and in the dozens of container ships on the coast of California. Commodities have been in short supply, so we adjust and forego buying that particular brand of toilet paper, or improvise and use something different to fix our lawnmower. But people are not commodities.

It’s long past time for us to see each other as neighbors, fellow humans in our struggle against the pandemic. Everyone is tired of it, we all want it gone. It’s annoying and disrupts our lives at the least….at the most it takes our lives and tears them apart.

I believe that people are inherently good, that they do their best, they watch out for their neighbors and friends. That may be naïve of me, but I still believe it nonetheless. While our valued and indispensable health care workers are watching out for their neighbors and friends with selfless service, let’s take a moment to reflect on how we can also best watch out for each other. It may take some sacrifice, we may not always get to do exactly what we want, but when it comes down to it, what is more important?