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The Pandemic Purgatory

Thoughts about the pandemic from a health care worker.

We are living in an unusual time. No one can deny that. While we are all working on stopping the spread of a pandemic that has affected us all in different ways, I think the main thing to remember is that we are all in this together. No one is exempt. 

For me, the start of 2020 was looking grand. In mid February, I made my national daytime talk show debut in New York City on the Tamron Hall Show. I also managed to squeeze in a quick press trip late February to the UK just before the pandemic really changed things in North America. This was my status quo, working at the hospital while still having the ability to travel freely for different adventures that came my way. My self-imposed lifestyle juggling always offered me a welcomed retreat from the everyday.   

Yet, at the beginning of March, that changed. While others were soon setting themselves up at home, for me and many other healthcare colleagues – this meant showing up at the hospital and doing our part in new ways. At my hospital, many departments shifted resources and whole inpatient units decanted patients in preparation. Although not directly on the front lines, my daily work changed to working with Infection Control. New teams emerged and plans were set in motion overnight. My colleagues and I cancelled all plans for the foreseeable future and we got down to work. 

As healthcare workers, this is what we do – we show up when asked. It was great to hear many healthcare workers worldwide coming out of retirement to help. Many deployed to areas they have never worked before, but knew that their vast knowledge and expertise could help lighten the load. 

For the first few weeks of March, there was a palpable sadness in the air. Walking through the hospital and not recognizing the physicians I had worked so closely with, now dressed in their full PPE. Until, of course they would yell out, “Elena, it’s me!”  I still could tell they were smiling even though they had a mask on. That’s another thing about healthcare workers – we could have a terrible day, but always find something to smile about. We have the innate ability to lighten the mood to help us carry on. Another characteristic of healthcare workers is that we care. We care so deeply and hard, even when it’s not reciprocated. We don’t quit on people based on their superficial circumstance, because that would be too easy. And no one goes into healthcare thinking things are going to be easy. I feel the longer you have been in healthcare the more you start to carry these lessons and characteristics with you in your personal life and to witness this kind of heart in action is nothing short of amazing.

Slowly the weeks have turned into months, and here we are on the cusp of June. Thankfully, the overall tone at my hospital has lightened. We have moved in our recovery stage as our new reality has set in.  I still have moments of grief however, like when I walked into Whole Foods and they offered me a mask and a squirt of hand sanitizer. Never in my 15+ years of Nursing has the clear reminders of my hospital work life unapologetically overlapped into my personal life. Pre-pandemic, it was quite compartmentalized and it’s taken me a moment to fully accept the shift. And that’s ok. 

It’s ok, because I know I am not alone. I realize that we are all dealing with our own forms of grief right now in this pandemic purgatory. It cannot be easy staying at home, homeschooling, working from home or not. For a select few, this is the first time they have really spent time with or without their family/friends; running the scale of feeling lonely to having a constant overload of stimuli. For some, this time offers a much-needed break to re-evaluate future goals/needs/wants however uncomfortable that may be. And for others, it’s been having the challenge of navigating all of the above. 

What keeps me optimistic during this uncertain time, beyond working with an amazing, dedicated healthcare team, are those willing to be flexible and collaborate with others. To leverage their skills sets and work outside their immediate circle, to offer support in different ways and hold the line for not only each other, but also their community at large.

You see this on larger scales with businesses around the world pivoting their resources and existing manufacturing models to support healthcare.  Large companies like California’s HydraFacial, enlisting their engineers and regulatory team to help build and store ventilators in their warehouse. To smaller businesses like Boatyard Distillery in North West Ireland, who have produced hand sanitizer for the NHS and distributed it to retail shops in the UK to keep up with the growing demand.  

And on the small scales, it’s the signs of encouragement like the chalk drawings on the sidewalk or colourful signs in windows made by children at home. The beautiful murals that have adorned the streets for the last months with quotes have really inspired me and many others. It’s the meals prepared by local restaurants given to essential workers and all the organizations and foundations taking care of those needing extra support in communities. It’s the popular nightly cheer that erupts at shift change that can be heard in cities worldwide. 

All those things remind me that together, we are all doing great work. Whether we are at home or at the hospital, we need to be proud of our collective effort to date. And while things may remain uncertain for now, it’s a great reminder not to give up on running this marathon. We must not shy away from the work that must be done; and not long for something that once was. Right now, the only way out is through, and we will get through this together. Let’s focus on all of the wonderful possibilities to come; as brighter days are just around the bend. 

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