I want to let you know I am thinking of you.
My bedside nursing years are past. But I shall do my bit by cheering you and all healthcare workers on for all the great work you do, whether you are caring for COVID-19 patients or not.
Yesterday, I sneaked out to buy bottles of champagne while it is still allowed to go out for mere mortals like myself. I will save these bubblies because I am optimistic that one day, when this pandemic is all over, there will be a worldwide ticker-tape parade for the healthcare team. People will throw confetti made of shredded masks and toilet paper, liberated from their hoarding locations, from office buildings lining Broadway. Then, I shall hit the streets applauding vigorously to you and all healthcare workers. And raising a glass of Moët! We can hug again, unmasked and ungloved.
It will get better, because you are there!
The above email is similar to one I sent to nurses I know personally who are in the frontlines, caring for patients afflicted by the pandemic. The bewildering unfolding of a looming healthcare catastrophe is disorienting and at times makes nurses who, like me, no longer “nurse” feel a little lost. My friends abroad are inquiring for my welfare, thinking I have taken up the personal protective equipment armor and gone to battle, armed with Purell and prayers. Sadly, I am not. I am found where the CDC wants me to be—at home. To be exact, I am working from home.
In between zooming in and out of meetings, I think of the nursing students who have come my way (I’ve been a nursing faculty for 24 years) and how they might be dealing with the pandemic. Social media is crackling with the outpouring of support for nurses, but I don’t think our appreciation can be distilled to an emoticon. So, I write with sincerity to my nursing friends, thanking them for their service.
My nursing career came of age with the tide of the AIDS pandemic. I arrived in the United States on January 8, 1990, to work as a float nurse mostly in the AIDS unit. It was part of the government’s Band-Aid remedy for the dire nursing shortage. I say this not to assume that I know how nurses caring for COVID-19 patients feel, but only to say that their fears are known to me and I’ll do what I can to help. David Brooks of the New York Times calls it social solidarity. He tells us that solidarity is not a feeling; it’s an active regard to the common good. For now, it means staying home while keeping near my heart the courage and hard work of all healthcare workers around the world.
In the meantime
A letter from Governor Cuomo asked all healthcare professionals in New York State to sign up for the Surge Project in the event of a massive shortage of skilled healthcare providers. It is often heard, once a nurse, forever a nurse. So, I signed up.
But there is something else I would like to suggest our frontline nurses do. And I hope I don’t come across as insensitive, considering all the physical and nervous exhaustion they are going through. Consider writing down your experiences, your observations, and your work through this pandemic. The world needs to hear your stories. Nurses are the unacknowledged historians of every health crisis in recent times from Hurricane Katrina to coronavirus. Lived experiences that go unrecorded are quickly lost in the rapid upheaval of novel events. I would like to see nurses as central and not accidental in the writing of this pandemic’s narrative. Oral and written history can be irretrievably lost if we don’t record it now. Nurses are inveterate writers, schooled in the mantra that if you didn’t write it; you didn’t do it. Writing a journal in times such as now can be therapeutic to the self and healing to others.
The healing osmosis
The raging pandemic is a tinderbox that could burn down meaningful connections, or we can distill its power to connect politician and the populace, patients and providers. The realization that the healer could become a patient by a mishap in clinical judgement or a twist of fate is our spiritual connection to our collective vulnerability. Trust is the semipermeable membrane of the healing process that both patients and providers crisscross in every clinical encounter. We must recognize the bravery of our patients because the healing osmosis cannot take place in a vacuum. We all must draw strength from one another, from both side of the fragile membrane.
Picture this: New York City, May 12, 2021. The world is celebrating International Nurses Day. The stench of hospital antiseptic has yielded to the fragrance of spring. All of Broadway below Chambers Street is blocked to traffic and a ticker-tape parade is in progress. Marching bands from all over America make joyful noise while dazzling confetti cascade slowly from building windows. The floats have nurses in them, dressed in colorful scrubs, waving to the crowd. It’s Thanksgiving Day in May!
This would not be the first-time New York City give nurses a parade.
On July 26, 1954, the city held a ticker-tape parade in honor of Geneviève de Galard-Terraube, a nurse known as the angel of Dien Bien Phu, for her heroic work with wounded soldiers during the French-Vietminh war (Vietminh is the organization that led the fight for Vietnamese independence from French rule). The marker of this parade can be found on the east side of Broadway between Cedar and Pine streets in Manhattan. We need more parades, not just for the winning sports teams but for the healthcare team.
I imagine that when this pandemic is over, we will redouble our optimism for the greater good, our trust in nurses, and press the gratitude reset button more often.
And we will buy green bananas again!
Fidelindo Lim is clinical associate professor at New York University – Rory Meyers College of Nursing.
Brooks D. (2020, March 19). Screw this virus! New York Times. nytimes.com/2020/03/19/opinion/coronavirus-isolation.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage