The pandemic has disrupted life as we know it, with no specific end in sight, outside of glimmers of hope with vaccines on the horizon. It also has disrupted nursing for almost 5 million of us working in the profession. Whether we’re at the bedside, classroom, community, or boardroom, nursing as we know it has been upended. Our nerves are frayed and our resources are depleted.
Nurses have been on high alert for more than 9 months and have birthed compassion fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder, and such significant burnout that some nurses are either leaving their positions or seriously considering a career change. For too long nurses in all aspects of practice have tolerated the intolerable. #NursesAreNotOK is a hashtag born out of sheer frustration in an effort to tell the truth about how we’re doing.
We have toed the line of “we do the best with what we have,” or worse, “we can handle this, we are nurses,” as if that is a battle cry for tolerating unsafe working conditions or not speaking out when we’re asked to buck up and remain silent. The problem is we aren’t on a battlefield, although it may feel that way, and the language of thanking “healthcare heroes” feels hollow. Imagine feeling disposable when we know we aren’t.
#NursesAreNotOK. We are tired to the core of our being. We are discouraged by the lack of support, lack of a national response to this virus, and a lack of respect for our expertise and voice. #NurseAreNotOk because no one should work under the conditions we’re hearing about from coast to coast in hospitals that are out of personal protective equipment and ICU beds and are forced to turn tractor trailers into morgues as the bodies pile up. #NurseAreNotOK because you can send all of the cheers and applause you want, but then go to a party, or a wedding, or even Thanksgiving dinner and make your poor decisions our next emergency.
We’re all dealing with uncertainty, which is adding to the collective trauma of COVID. Nurses are trained to remain calm in the face of adversity and trauma. But in the midst of long-term uncertainty, none of us are at our best. COVID is a collective storm, but we’re not all riding out this storm in the same boat. Some of us are riding it out on a yacht, and some of us are literally clinging by our fingertips to a buoy in this storm. It’s important for nurses to recognize that it’s ok to not be ok and ask for help—that four-letter word that we often give but seldom allow ourselves to receive. You see, our greatest strengths, such as loyalty and stoicism, also can be our greatest vulnerabilities. It begins with not recognizing our own needs. No longer tolerating the intolerable is perhaps one place to begin.
You can help us too! Stop politicizing mask-wearing, and put one on yourself and your children. When you hear someone calling this virus a hoax or nothing more than the flu, stop and remember that almost 270,000 people have died and millions have become infected. Be respectful of the health department when they call your house. Answer the questions and cooperate with the contact tracers; they’re trying to help you and your neighbors. Put the tried and true public health mitigation strategies into place that have been shouted from the rooftops for months on end. Make an informed decision about the COVID vaccine, we need your cooperation. Don’t spread misinformation and share articles only from credible sources, not conspiracy theorists.
Here is hoping for brighter days ahead. We’re facing our most challenging time of the pandemic, so we need to have reasons to hope things will improve. We can pull together as a nation if we each do our share to abide by public health guidelines and make decisions that center on safety. This isn’t about taking away anyone’s rights, it’s about preventing needless suffering and possible death. We’ve lost too many people in this pandemic. Let’s not add to the collective grief and trauma by remaining divided.
If you know a nurse, love a nurse, or are related to a nurse, be mindful that we’re riding a wave of exhaustion through COVID. We’re one sleep-deprived night away from making a bad decision and that’s really scary. Encourage and support the nurse in your life to check in on their own well-being. It doesn’t come naturally to us because we’re too busy focusing on yours.