I know that when we post profile pictures, we want to post a good one. Like probably most of you, I’m a big fan of putting my best face forward. However, I was overcome this week when I looked in the mirror after taking off my PPE (personal protective equipment). It had been a particularly grueling day, and before I gathered my bag and lunch tote to head home, I sat and took my shoes off to try and rub away some of the pain in my heels and ankles.
At that point, I’d just moved my respirator down on my neck to breathe unfiltered air. At the end of every day, my respirator (sized, hospital-issued N95), along with my goggles, face shield, and gown, all go back in my locker, to be ready when/if I need them the next day. I don a regular mask, wash up, and head home. On the day I took this picture, I’d glimpsed a look at myself in the small mirrors that hang in the nurse’s locker/break room. I cracked up laughing when I saw my hair (styled by the frequent taking on and off of my PPE for changes between mask types). I then noticed how the respirator mask had created deep indentions on my face. When I looked into my own eyes, I saw emotional fatigue, worry, and a glimmer of hope.
I’m not the only registered nurse that gets up in the morning and enters a hospital ready to help you and those you love. I’m not the only nurse who lays awake at night and worries about you and your wellbeing. I’m not the only nurse who is not afraid of your illness, tears, heartbreak, infection, fear, or triumphs.
My husband recently spent a week with me on the reservation where I am serving, and he made an observation that struck me. “Pretty, there are two types of nurses and doctor’s here. Those who can’t work anywhere else because for one reason or another they can’t cut it and those who are here because they want to help these people and are called to be here.” He’s not known for his tact or his political correctness. My first instinct was to fuss at him for saying such a thing, but I realized I didn’t really have a good argument against his statement.
I pray I never become a calloused old grumpy-butt nurse that cares more about whatever than about my patients! I wish I were perfect. I wish I never made mistakes. I wish I had the energy of my younger self and the wisdom of Solomon. Most medical providers you come in contact with care about you and want to ease the illness, fear, and suffering of every patient they touch. Most. There are always the outliers and don’t worry, you can spot them as quickly as I can. Never be afraid to question any medical provider. Never be scared to ask if they washed their hands. Never be afraid to ask them to explain something to you in non-medical terms. If someone is rough or rude or disrespectful, never be afraid to address that directly. At the same time, please realize that your nurses and providers are people with beating hearts, and loved ones, and tears that shed just like yours.
It is my personal opinion that we will see 2021 arrive and leave before we see some resolution of this current pandemic. I’m sick of the politics of it, and I’m sick of the fear-mongering from the media. We truly do not know much about this illness, and not even people in the medical field can agree about what it is. I recently overheard an argument between two physicians. One was adamant that it was a disease of the whole vascular system (your blood vessels). Therefore gas exchange can not adequately be supported in the lungs. (You can’t get the oxygen you need because your blood cells can’t deliver the oxygen for you to breathe). And the other was just as adamant that it was an illness related to influenza. It looks similar to respiratory viruses (when looking at the germs under a microscope) and behaves in a like manner.
Frustrating? Yes, I know.
Truth? We don’t know everything there is to know about this illness…yet. But. This is what you can do. Wash your hands. Frequently. Take your shoes off before or as you enter your home. Wash your hands. Change your clothing after you’ve been in public. Wash your hands. Cut out the crappy food and choose fruits, fresh or frozen vegetables, nuts, seeds. Eat good beef (buy it from your local rancher if possible); fresh eggs, chicken, and other protein sources are essential. Wash your hands. Get plenty of rest. Breathe fresh air. Take a regular walk. Listen to the birds. Wash your hands. Get sunlight directly on your skin for 10-15 minutes daily. Read. Drink enough fluids. Give something away. Listen to beautiful music. Wash your hands. Connect with your family. Visit with your friends. Enjoy a cup of coffee, tea, a glass of wine, some chocolate. Practice the art of gratitude. Be polite. Love one another and care about your neighbor. Wash your hands. Forgive. Apologize. Watch the sunrise and set. Stop trying to control what is out of your control. Let go of materialism. Hold everything loosely. Wash. Your. Hands.
When we do these things, we care for our bodies natural defense system, and that is key. We have a crazy amazing immune system always ready for battle coursing through our veins! But we do need to do our part to care for it. There is no magic formula that guarantees that you or I won’t ever get sick, but if you practice the things you can control and let go of the rest, you’ve done all you can.
Lastly, go ahead and wear the mask. It’s not hurting you. It won’t kill you. It’s not like your wearing one twelve hours a day! The back of my ears are rubbed raw. The bridge of my nose gets so sore it hurts to wash my face at night, but wearing one is what I’m supposed to do, and if it means you are protected, and I am protected, then I’m for it!
In 1920 over fifty million people died of the Spanish Flu. 50 million. FIFTY MILLION. They did battle against the virus for two years. FIFTY MILLION PEOPLE DIED. And yet, the human race carried on. Dear ones, we will survive this. Hold on. Learn. Love others while they, and you, are here to love. Everything else is not up to you, and that’s okay. Truly.
The picture reveals every flaw of my skin, the established and sprouting wrinkles, the indentions of the respirator I wear when caring for my patients. All of it all seems evidenced on my face. I see fatigue and homesickness and concern reflected in my eyes. But I also see the fulfillment and satisfaction of the blessing of life. Hold onto the goodness, my friend. Let yourself be real and know that you’ll never be too sick, too dirty, too smelly, too sad, or too fearful for me to care for you. And the best news? I’m not the only nurse in the world who feels that way. Thousands and thousands and thousands go to work every day to help you and those you love. I’m praying for you-please pray for us too-and wash your hands.