I was never meant to be a nurse at six feet apart

Author(s): Brenda Murdough, MSN, RN-BC, BS, CAPA

In my almost 40 years of experience as a registered nurse, I could never have imagined nurses encouraged and required to care for our patients and their families in the way that is being mandated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s ironic that 2020 has been proclaimed the Year of the Nurse.

I understand the complete and absolute need for social distancing, for staying at least 6 feet away, for wearing a mask in places that we could have never imagined, and for handwashing and hand sanitizing before we enter, before we leave, after we’ve done just about anything or have had even the most benign interaction with a patient, a colleague, or a family member. I understand the daily COVID-19 report with numbers and statistics and counts of ICU patients, of ventilated patients, of patients who have died from the disease. I understand the loneliness of those who have been completely isolated from family and friends as they struggle to recover from this demon or devastating die alone.

Nurses have been redeployed to other units to learn new skills and patient care in extremely short periods of time to prepare to care for those who may be infected with COVID-19.

Many have had shifts changed, hours altered (increased or decreased) or furloughed as the need for ED or ICU beds was not what was anticipated, while others have worked double shifts, extra shifts, and extra hours.

I’ve done these things too—bewildered and overwhelmed, perplexed and frustrated. I never imagined that holding a patient’s hand; hugging a family member through the toughest transition in their young life; wiping tears from the face of my patient who is frightened and scared; sitting at the bedside and having a much needed conversation with a patient, parent, or child, regarding their health; and countless other experiences that make us nurses and that we perform as part of the care we deliver every day would now be considered too risky. We must limit time within 6 feet. We must keep social distance. We must all wear masks.

I find this new nursing far from normal. It will never be my new normal. It is a necessary inconvenience for a greater good. A mandatory precaution for a temporary time. I look forward to the day when we can once again embrace a coworker, shake the hand of a patient we just met, hold the grandchild who is now allowed to visit, give a warm embrace to a survivor, and watch a patient smile back at me, full face exposed and lit up with triumph over their illness.

In this Year of the Nurse 2020, I cannot wait to return to being the nurse I was meant to be.

Brenda Murdough is a nurse in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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