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  • Writer's picture Gabrielle Elise Jimenez

Can you see my smile behind this mask?

I was visiting a patient recently who lived in a facility where there were multiple COVID-positive residents. I walked down the long hallway noting that several doors had a chair in front of it. When I got to my patient’s room, I asked the caregiver what the chairs meant. She said, “they put a chair in front of each door of a patient who tested positive for COVID”.

Walking out of that room and down the hall was a far different experience, than it was walking in. I counted seven chairs on that hallway alone. Dressed in my gown, my gloves, my face shield and my booties, I went up to every floor and walked down every hallway stopping at each door that had a chair in front of it. The feeling was surreal, emotional, difficult and hard. This is our new normal now and I am not entirely certain I can handle it without truly breaking down and falling apart. I want to cry more often now than I ever have, and I am a crier.

At each door, I stopped, and I whispered a prayer to each person that was held prisoner behind those doors, not allowed to leave their room, regardless of whether they had symptoms or not. I said, “I wish you comfort during this time and I wish you good health. I want you to know that even though you can’t see it, I am smiling at you behind my mask. You are not alone, and this will end”. I said that at many doors, a number I wish not to repeat.

While numbers are lowering and we are “flattening the curve”, that doesn’t take away the number of lives this virus has ended, nor does it comfort the fear we feel each time we visit a patient, a family member, a friend… or even wait in line at the grocery store. Most of us are constantly wondering if we might be the next person the virus comes after and as a nurse, seeing patients who are already compromised, that fear is very, very real. And yet we continue to move forward and do our best to provide really good care.

My face itches and stings from wearing a mask all day, I feel like I am suffocating and can’t breathe. Sometimes I walk outside of wherever I am just to be able to remove it long enough to breathe in fresh air. And despite how uncomfortable and scared I am, the thing that really tugs at my heart and brings tears to my eyes, is that the person I am caring for, the one who already has a limited time left, or is already struggling in other ways for other reasons, doesn’t get to know that when I walk in, I am truly smiling at them and very happy to see their beautiful face despite it all. This damn virus is trying to take our smile away too and that just pisses me off.

At the end of the day I am exhausted, and I am physically and emotionally beat. I know that many of you feel this same way. I find myself reminding others to stay strong, to support one another, and to lift each other up but there are days I can’t always find the energy to be strong for others. There are days, when I am the one that needs lifting up.

This morning I went to the grocery store. An elderly woman was putting her groceries in her car when a bag dropped, and everything started rolling out on to the ground. I walked over and started to help her pick up her groceries. She had a mask on, and so did I. Everyone in the parking lot had a mask on. After I helped her, she said, “thank you” and told me she wished she could give me a hug. I said, “I wish you could too.” And then I said, “By the way, I am smiling at you behind my mask”. She responded, “I know… you smile with your eyes”. This brought me comfort.

Today I was lifted up. Today my sparkle was polished and while I know there will be long, hard, emotional days ahead… the curtain will lift and so will our masks… and we will get to show everyone our smile again.

Photo credit: Frances Freyberg Blackburn

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