Nursing During the Pandemic

By Annemarie Adsen

I was asked to write, though I feel unworthy.   My work has not put me on the frontlines.  That could, however, change at any time.  All nurses have been told that should the need arise, we will be reassigned to direct care of COVID patients.  

A scene from a movie of Gandhi’s life kept replaying in my mind.   Two armed British soldiers stood guard.   An orderly line of unarmed peaceful Indian protesters stood before each guard.  The Indians approached slowly.  No words were spoken.  The moment that the Indians came before the soldiers, they were brutally clubbed and fell to the ground broken.  More Indians replaced them.  The Indians standing in line repeatedly witnessed what was about to befall them, and yet they remained undeterred.  I found their bravery to be incomprehensible.  

I felt like I was one of the Indians waiting to face the virus.   With an acute shortage of PPE, it was only a matter of time before I, too, would lay broken.   Unlike the Indians, I had no bravery.  I was in a state of constant terror.  

When I am going through a difficult time, I turn to friends and family for support.  With social distancing, that support evaporated.  I knew in my head, that people still loved me, but it was difficult to feel it in my heart.  Everything in my life had changed overnight.

There was one exception.  The telephone has remained a constant.  On Monday nights, I continued to do what I have done for the past twenty years.   I took calls from my Al-Anon sponsees and called my sponsor.  Speaking with these fine women has always been an honor.  Before life was transformed into a zoom existence, Mondays were my only mooring.

During those dark days, encouraging messages started springing up in windows and on sidewalks.  People sent me notes and made masks to protect me.  They left happy things at my door.  All these lovely actions helped to cheer and sustain me.

Another thing that served to buoy my spirits was Spring.  My whole life, I have experienced nature as sacred.  Seeing returning feathered faces and fresh green buds popping forth was a great comfort.  They seemed to be announcing to the world, “Virus, smirus- we’ve got IMPORTANT matters to attend to!”

At times I felt self-pity, “People who know that I’m a nurse are treating me like a pariah.”  I decided to shift my attention outward.  I mailed greeting cards thanking people who had supported me and offering support to those that I thought may be struggling.  These small actions helped to fill the emptiness.

At some point, more PPE became available.  Strict procedures were instituted.  Anyone entering a COVID ward, had to wear appropriate protection.  Upon learning this, I felt the overwhelming anxiety that had tormented me for so long, start to ebb.   Safety practices continue to evolve, as more supplies are obtained.  As a result, I now feel safer at work than in must public places.

I was commenting to a friend that one of the worst things about this situation is the lack of certainty.  The future is now completely unknown.   As the words left my mouth, I suddenly realized how crazy they sounded.   The pandemic has simply served to bring uncertainty into clear focus.  The truth is that the future has always been and will continue to be uncertain.   It is merely an illusion to think that I know what will take place tomorrow. 

Since I have no knowledge of the future, it needn’t be said that I have no power over it.   Admitting that we are powerless, is the first of the twelve steps.   I resist the thought of having no power.  It makes me afraid.  The beautiful thing is that, if I truly embrace my powerlessness, I am ready to move on to the second step.  I can acknowledge the existence of a power greater than myself. 

Al-Anon has gifted me with faith.   I know that God exists.  I also know that we, each one of us, are loved by God.  The vastness of that love is something that even the most brilliant among us is unable to comprehend.  It is in that loving God that I must place my absolute trust today and every day.  As for the days that I still struggle, my favorite Al-Anon slogan applies.  Together We Can Make It!