Clinical TopicsCommunityImmune/Lymphatic SystemInfectious DiseasesLife at WorkMental HealthPerspectivesPublic HealthWorkplace Management

Your eyes

By: April Hutto, MSN, FNP-BC

I can only see your eyes. You can only see my eyes. I try to hear your voice over the hum of the makeshift respiratory isolation room you are in. You try to hear my words through my mask. Together we make quite the picture. I am in a gown, gloves, mask, goggles, and hair covering. You lay in your gown with your mask on, oxygen blowing into your nose. I touch you with my gloved hand and introduce myself. I then step back as you struggle to answer me between quick shallow breaths. I want to give you the appearance that I am present with you, near you, connecting with you, while in my head I remember to touch you as little as required and stay as far away as possible.

In my many years of practicing nursing I never thought I would see this day. Today I, and others in healthcare, try to distance ourselves as far as we can from you. We don’t want to touch you. We don’t want to hear you talk without a mask. What you and I struggle to understand is that this is a necessity and a cruelty. If I draw near and comfort you, spend more than a few seconds in the room, hold your hand has you cough, gasp, or vomit, I put myself, my family, and my other patients at risk. If I stand in the door and shout at you as you struggle to breath, struggle to hear me, I make you feel isolated, disconnected, and possibly uncared for.

What I need you to know is that I hate this. This is not how I was trained or who I ever wanted to be. As I watch you through the window of the closed door a piece of my heart, my soul, is left behind in that room with you. You won’t see it, hear it, or feel it, but it’s there. We are both going to come out of this with scars and I can only hope that you live to feel and see them. I feel mine every night as I fade into sleep. You are one of my first thoughts when I rise. I ask myself if you survived the night, did you improve while I slumbered?

I’m not at work today but I can’t escape COVID-19, just like you can’t. I leave my house to gather bare necessities for the week and it’s almost more than I can bear. I see your neighbors, my neighbors, our friends, socializing as if COVID-19 was a myth. Don’t they know you’re in the hospital fighting for your life? Don’t they care that they may have been the one to make you sick? I care, and it ignites an anger in me that I struggle to not let consume me. I see their faces smiling, laughing, freely talking unmasked, and I wonder when I’ll only see their eyes. When will they end up where you are, only able to see my eyes, craving for human touch and struggling to breath?

You’re still in the hospital, so you don’t see the uproar that wearing a mask has caused. If you could only read the Facebook posts, walk in the grocery store, or watch the news. I know if you saw what I saw when I’m not at work you would feel similar to what I feel. The tears of frustration and anger at society’s self-centeredness. The disgust that someone would use a simple infection prevention technique to make a political statement. I once had a hope for our country, that we would choose others above ourselves, that we would endure a minor inconvenience for the sake of our brothers and sisters.

Each day I wake up with the hope that today will be the day. Today will be the day that you are remembered, you are honored, and your struggle to live is respected by someone wearing a mask. As another day slips by, I feel we’re losing ground in our fight against COVID-19. I head to bed weary of people’s choice of I over you or us. I wish the only thing I could see were other people’s eyes, for then I’d know they would take this seriously.

April Hutto is a hospitalist NP at Prisma Health Midlands Richland in Columbia, South Carolina.

The views and opinions expressed by Perspectives contributors are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the American Nurses Association, the Editorial Advisory Board members, or the Publisher, Editors and staff of American Nurse Journal. These are opinion pieces and are not peer reviewed.

34 Comments. Leave new

  • Jemme Stewart
    July 23, 2020 11:42 pm

    Thank you, April. I appreciate your open and honest message. As a psychiatric APRN I am appalled and incredibly frustrated to see how many people here don’t choose to help themselves and others. I’m not sure I will ever understand it. I hope and pray that you stay safe and well. Jemme

  • I am deeply touched and moved by ALL of these comments. I want to share a song that perfectly fits this discussion.

  • Thank you for writing this. I am around my own family member who does not get it. It is on the news,on the doors of establishments, and advertising to practice Covid-19 rules set forth. He says we are all going to get it, the sooner the better! He chose not to wear one so he is going to bring it home to me! Ugh!

  • Wait until these antiMask people landed in the ICU! Too late for them, regret is always @ the end.
    We’re running out of negative pressure rooms, and worst comes to worst.. regular rooms will be used, that’s scary !!!

  • Beautiful. And sadly I have seen even nurses posting that they are anti-mask. We are losing ground as a profession. We must advocate for what is best practice, and stay out of politicizing masks! I am so ashamed of these nurses who are feeding into the anti-mask freedom movement. People are dying! Lives are changed forever! My beloved profession is suffering! I never thought, even with all the pandemic planning, that people would tear this country apart over a public health protective measure.

    July 14, 2020 5:27 pm

    Oh my, this nails my sentiment as a Critical Care Nurse to a T ! Thank you for putting in words exactly what I am feeling ! It is so heartbreaking to see these people suffering the way they do !!! We feel the burden when we lose them feeling that we failed them somehow ! I pray for healing of this Nation in so many ways. God help us help others see the realization !

  • Lucy Butler
    July 14, 2020 1:18 pm

    I live in Colorado and the mask debate is horrendous here. Thank you for sharing. You may not remember me, but I knew your Mom and Dad well. I pray for my daughter who is a doctor, my grandchildren and children who are working, my vulnerable friends, and Christians like you.

  • Your words reflect how many of us in the frontline feel, if they only knew that many if ya aren’t getting raises for two years, our 401K matching suspended until further notice, vacation time cancelled, not accruing pto, no PPE, many if use opted to buy our own N-95, scrub caps, shoe covers, sometimes no lunch breaks just a quick bite at anything you can before they call a code blue, rapid response or code airway, yet we still show up on time fully geared up, we didn’t ask to be called “ Heroes “ taking care of people is what we do, caring is what we do, we feel you thank you for putting it into words go ALL The Frontline workers

  • April and Harold, I wrote a post tonight about being so disenchanted with our fellow American. My nurse heart is breaking everyday! April, thank you for sharing!

  • Kathy Asselin
    July 13, 2020 4:30 pm

    Dear April, I am a retired RN. I too worked for 40 years I hear what you are saying. In my heart, I feel bad for all the frontline workers. I feel scared because I have asthma and my husband has CLL. In the last 4 1/2 months I have hardly left my house except to walk or go on our boat. I can’t believe some of the comments. I had hoped after this was over nurses would finally get more respect. Harold is right WTH is the governor doing? The schools can’t open. Every one in government was too little too late. I pray for you and the other frontline workers. I wish for the people who think this is a joke that they see someone close to them end up in ICU land then finally they might GET it. I am afraid for my daughter who is a teacher. Thank you,
    April for coming forth and writing this. May God Bless you and keep you safe.

  • I’m pretty sure those cases of hypercapnia will be listed as Covid under your watch.

  • Geoge Hassell
    July 12, 2020 10:24 pm

    Ms. Hutto how much of a raise did you get to write this?

    • April Hutto
      July 13, 2020 9:05 am

      Funny, my employer doesn’t even know I wrote this. As part of my self-care I have been journaling my feelings. This article is one such journal entry.

      • Alaine OConnor
        July 13, 2020 10:25 pm

        Ignore the ignorance & focus on how proud people who don’t even know you feel about you. Thank you is inadequate, that & my prayers for you & all health care workers are unending.

      • Heather, RN, CCRN
        July 14, 2020 6:02 am

        Please ignore the ignorance of others, and keep caring for our patients. They know you care, we know you care. We intubated a baby with COVID the other night. We watched the mom closely, as we know she’s not feeling well, but is the most “well” parent to stay with the baby. The baby isn’t doing well, but we will fight for them…. I am a pediatric ICU nurse, and my heart hurts with yours. Some of my own family hate me for being honest about what I see. I am too immersed in reading actual studies to watch the media and politics. When I answer questions they are angry because it’s not what they want to hear. I don’t know why we can’t pull together to care for each other and win this war.

    • Harold Hoover
      July 13, 2020 11:00 am

      You can’t even spell your OWN name right, but you think yourself an expert on COVID-19. Typical. And before you start your nasty spew, I’m a conservative, gun-owning, Trump-voting Republican. They only ‘RIGHT’ you and your fellow mask-haters are preserving is your false ‘right’ to harm others. GROW UP.

    • Lisa Riente
      July 13, 2020 1:13 pm

      Thank you April for your selfless service.

      SHAME ON YOU – “Geoge” & Cory! Despicable…

    • Such a nasty comment. Until someone you know dies you have no clue, Healthcare workers are getting sick too. Thank you April, this article really got to me. I am not in direct patient care anymore but my daughter is, and I am so concerned for her.

    • Frontline ED Nurse
      July 14, 2020 9:36 am

      As a Frontline ER RN, I like to Thank the Countless essential workers RISKING their lives and the lives of their families in efforts to fight this horrid battle… As for the ignorant people expressing their UNEDUCATED comments- F#%k You!

    • Martie Moore
      July 18, 2020 11:44 am

      Sir, How can you ask that? How can you trivialize what was written? What was written is felt by a large majority of healthcare providers. It is truth, plain and simple. The lens of cynicism is uncalled for, nor needed during this time.

  • I’m sure you got a fat pay raise to try this tear jerker out.

    • April Hutto
      July 13, 2020 9:08 am

      I wish. 😉 I have gained nothing from this in any way. I wrote this as a journal entry to help myself cope. I shared it with a friend who suggested I try to get it published.

      • Martie Moore
        July 18, 2020 11:48 am

        April, you wrote what most of us feel. Thank you for being courageous and speaking what so many of us are feeling. Sending you the biggest virtual hug I can. Thank you again!!!

    • George, you are an ass. If she got money it would be none of your business anyway. Don’t trash her heartfelt thoughts. I appreciate and empathize with her . You on the other hand are selfish, bitter and outright mean!!Unbelievable, that if you get covid, that these health workers would still take care of you.

  • Karen Wille
    July 12, 2020 8:45 pm

    Thank you for sharing! We all need to hear this! ??????❤️??

  • I am an RN currently not working due to medical problems. I wanted to let you know how much what you wrote moved me. Brought tears to my eyes. I hope and pray for you and all the Frontline workers and have to face this dilemma day after day after day. And then to see people outside not even taking the most simple of precautions. If only they knew! Sadly, some of them will find out the hard way when they or someone close to them is affected with Covid! And I am praying for you and I thank you for all that you do! God bless you

  • Harold Hoover
    July 12, 2020 9:58 am

    I’m a fellow South Carolinian, a physician, and I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’ll go beyond what was said above…for the first time, the utter STUPIDITY and intransigence of our fellow citizens has put EVERYONE at risk. And I’ll put much of the blame on our joke of a Governor, who was way too late in closing the state, way too early in reopening, and way too late (and placid) on the topic of wearing masks. “South Carolinians are gonna do the RAHT THANG!” bleated Feckless Henry. And they did NOT.

    Until the statewide order took effect literally hours ago, you would see any number of fools gallivanting through the grocery and the Home Depot without masks, looking with disdain on anyone wearing protective gear. You see post after post after post on social media bellowing about “rights” and claiming expertise based on reading some quote or post that agrees with their delusions. I’m amused (not) by the calls for those at risk to “just stay home” so as not to inconvenience anyone. My favorite was the fellow who has a disabled child who WON’T wear a mask and wants everyone else to accommodate HER problem, while ignoring everyone else’s.

    People, this isn’t rocket science. My wearing a mask protects YOU from ME. It is that simple. It is NOT like wearing a motorcycle helmet, for example, that will keep the wearer from becoming an organ-donor. Refusing to wear a mask is an incredibly selfish move that has more parallels with drunk driving…the potential to hurt others is great. And you do NOT have the right to hurt ME.

    The foolish people out there who don’t believe COVID-19 is “real” are operating on the level of a four-year-old. “I haven’t caught it yet, so I won’t and it must be a fake anyway!” Let us hope that they never have to experience this scourge personally. And that they follow the LAW and wear masks.

    • I am a nurse working in an outpatient oncology clinic, so I don’t deal up close and personal with known COVID19 patients. I really can’t begin to imagine the distance you feel. I applaud you and all the other medical staff dealing directly with the COVID units and incoming unknowns in the ER. You all are amazing! You really are heroes! Please find someone to talk to and take care of yourselves; I fear the mental toll this will take. I just want you to know from a fellow RN that I’m rooting you all! Prayers!

  • I can’t say how sad this makes me for our healthcare professionals but especially the woman who wrote this. My heart breaks for all they are having to endure day in and day out and this virus still resides so ever present in our country with no hope in site of it being squelched out and not even under control. May God bless these healthcare professionals and covid-19 patients for all they are forced to endure. I still can’t believe how our country is so decided over this situation…I would have never thought this simple request to social distance and wear a mask but turn into all the things it has this year.

  • CHerRIe BEvers
    July 12, 2020 8:43 am

    Beautifully written and shared!

  • Vicki Hansen
    July 11, 2020 11:07 pm

    Thank you for being raw.
    Thank you for hoping that, as you put it, patients will live to feel the scars.
    Thank you for being a NP.

  • Andrea Bauman
    July 11, 2020 9:05 pm

    This is so powerful and true. I am retired but was a nurse for almost 40 years and I can empathize with every word you wrote . I wish the whole country would read this. Thank you


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