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Covid-19: I'm a nurse, and I don't have the answers

Honest reflections a year into the pandemic

By Jessica NorrisPublished 2 years ago 7 min read
Covid-19: I'm a nurse, and I don't have the answers
Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

We've been doing this pandemic thing for over a year now. I'm a nurse. I'm a nurse who worked in a local hot spot when the outbreak started. I was in the thick of the danger. It was a time when you could taste the fear hanging in the air. The PPE shortages were real. The unknown was real.

Patients were intubated and shipped. People died, and they died alone. The situation got worse long before it got better. I didn't get fit-tested for my N-95 mask until June. (I worked at a small hospital. Due to the pandemic, we were unable to get a hold of the fit test solution.) Staff received an email instructing us to prepare to use the same mask for up to one week. We used to have disinfecting wipes in every patient room. A pandemic hit, and all the wipes disappeared.

Everyone on staff started to wear the provided surgical scrubs instead of scrubs from home. Elective surgeries were shut down. Hospital visitors were an artifact of the past. I came home from work one day in April 2020 and told my family that a Covid-19 positive patient had coughed in my face. My hands grew chapped, and my skin was dry from scrubbing myself down after every shift. (I can't say that was totally due to the pandemic. I've always been a bit of a germaphobe.)

I will say it was nice to have people respecting my profession. But if you're a nurse, you're not in it for the glory. There isn't any. Helping people who are at their most vulnerable involves difficult interactions. Sometimes people are rude and inappropriate. You learn to give people a generous amount of understanding. They're sick, and often treatment is not what they want to do. Being in the hospital isn't normal. For a nurse, it's another work day. For patients, it's nothing they want to have happening to them. Nursing is rewarding, but if you want people to always respect you, don't choose it as a profession. (Side note: as a nurse, know your own value, and do not let this be dependent on what people think of you.)

But then Covid-19 rocked the world, and nurses were the bravest people in the world. The heroes who didn't wear capes. The people who were standing up to the virus. Support from the local community was overwhelming. One thing that struck me was that night shift wasn't forgotten in the hustle. I was on nights and inevitably, you miss out on gifts of appreciation because of the nature of the hours. But to come into work one evening and find that a local business had ordered to have food brought in for night shift around 8 pm? That was awesome. Plus all the donated snacks and coffee in the break room were nice.

I will acknowledge that some of this support was warranted. I saw firsthand bravery and sacrifice in the presence of a new virus that we did not yet understand. Stuck at home, members of the community felt there was little they could do to help. Supporting medical workers was what they could do. It felt good to know I had people who cared about me. The stress levels were high. I remember sending a text to my friend right before my shift, asking him to pray that no one would be intubated that night. To know I had an army of people behind me gave me strength.

But with this newfound respect and support came something else: an expectation. The expectation of providing the best care possible is normal in the nursing profession. This was different. I was hit with the odd feeling that I was supposed to have answers. I was supposed to know what to do and what other people should do. A medical professional. Now that position carried with it more weight than it ever had for me.

While never spoken explicitly, the vibe I got from social media was that the world was waiting for the opinions of the experts. If you weren't an expert, you didn't have authority to speak about the subject. It felt like the opinions of people outside of the medical community were being silenced. The little RN next to my name gave me some sort of voice that wasn't given to the general public.

Here's my confession: I didn't have the answers.

I didn't know. I was still freaking out that I hadn't been fitted for my N-95 and that disinfecting wipes seemed to have vanished off the face of the earth. Then there were the tests and all the speculation going around about test accuracy. There was the sentiment from the public that even stepping outside your door meant you could be killing grandma. What did that make me? I was being as careful as I could, but we were a tiny unit. We were trying to keep a few nurses with Covid patients and different nurses with Non-Covid patients. But what if I went into a Non-Covid patient room and unintentionally gave that patient Covid? What if that patient died because of me?

I was reading guidelines from the CDC like everyone else. I wish I could say that I knew the lock downs were working and that the virus hadn't become politicized. And I thoroughly wished there was a clear right and wrong about what to do moving forward. But there wasn't. It's a rarity for anything to be that simple. I didn't know what to tell people. I felt just as scared and confused as anyone else, stuck in a state of waiting for life to go back to normal.

Time passed, and we learned more about the virus. Policies changed as PPE became more abundant. Testing increased so that every admitted patient was tested for Covid. These admissions were further divided into low risk and high risk categories based on symptoms. The policies of the nursing homes changed, so that Covid positive patients weren't being shipped back into nursing homes.

The fear began to subside, and Covid became another disease to treat, rather than a mythical beast to be slain. N-95s were easier to come by. Information about the best intubation practices changed dramatically. Elective surgeries opened back up. We even started allowing visitors at specific times.

A year later, and I can say I've formed opinions. But I do have the humility to say that I still don't know. I've looked at this virus from multiple angles, and I see the concerns of both "sides" of the issue. Yes, Covid-19 is a real virus that disproportionately impacts the elderly population. Getting Covid-19 can cause serious complications and even death. But there is more to life than the physical. I see the concerns about the increased rates of suicide and the deterioration of people's mental health. I see the concerns about education and the virus' impact on children.

My opinion is just that. An opinion. I like to think it comes from a place that has some experience behind it now. But this year of Covid-19 has taught me about the life behind the "expert" wall. The supposed "experts" don't always have the answers people want them to have. It takes humility to say "I don't know." Covid-19 has reminded me that everyone should be treated with compassion. Medical professionals are trying. We know more now than we did before, and we will strive to give the best answers we can based on data. Doctors and nurses might know more because of their field of study. But the world would do well to remember that they are human, imperfect, and trying to do the best they can. I am a nurse. I don't have all the answers. I wish I did. But that level of honesty can be the beginning of finding solutions.


About the Creator

Jessica Norris

Passionate writer that is enthusiastic about writing engaging, compelling content. Excels in breaking down complex concepts into simple terms and connecting with readers through sharing stories and personal experience.

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