Being a hospice nurse during a time when our world is trying desperately to navigate the COVID virus has not been easy, to say the least. But each day as I learn to navigate through our new normal, I am being reminded of many things… most importantly the value of each moment that we have with those we love. I think we have taken that for granted over the years and perhaps COVID is reminding us how strong, and resilient we are and that we need to redirect our focus onto what really matters and how we can do better for ourselves and one another moving forward.
We all have a different perspective of what is happening in and to our world today. I think it is best we agree to disagree on a few things, as long as we continue to be gentle and kind with one another. As I see patients during this time, I struggle with my own fears and worries, how this affects me, and I worry about the families who can’t be with their loved ones and I worry about people dying alone. Recently I have been made very aware of how this affects those who lay in the bed, or who are sequestered to their rooms without human interaction for hours at a time… they feel punished and I am understanding that more now than I ever have.
I visited with a patient the other day who was not wearing a mask upon my arrival. I on the other hand had gloves, booties, a gown and a mask because that is our new normal despite how much we don’t like it. I understand the rules have changed, I also understand that this protective equipment is as much for my benefit as it is for those I cross paths with, but this patient I visited with gave me even more reason to wish so badly this would stop being our new normal.
When I first sat down, he told me I could take my mask off. I didn’t, but I wanted to. He proceeded to tell me how it makes him feel when we walk into his space covered head to toe, as though he was infectious, as though I was protecting myself from him. A tear rolled down his cheek as he shared his feelings, and still, I kept my mask on. I shared with him how I felt, that I didn’t want to be wearing all of this “protective” equipment, but that I believe deep in my soul that it is the right thing because I need to know that I am keeping him safe and he understood that. By the end of the visit, he made me promise to come back, even if I had to wear a mask. I made that promise.
I got in my car after that visit and I took my mask off. There were deep indentations across my face and I could feel them as though they were bruises, and while they will fade, the scars of all of this will remain. We will never forget these times.
I spoke to the daughter of a patient asking me how she can be with her dad when the place he lived in was on lock down. He was dying and she couldn’t be with him, she was the only family he had. She would have been willing to cover herself head to toe with “protective” equipment if it meant spending one more minute with her father. She will never get this time back and these will be her last memories. I gathered together my best advice and suggestions of ways she can let him know she is with him, even though she is not and while this helped her, I think what she really needed was to have someone listen to her share how hard this is for her. I listened.
Our new normal, for however long we have to endure it, is causing many of us deep, painful and emotional distress. The struggle is real from our perspective as clinicians, and from the family members who can’t say goodbye, but more importantly, from the patients whose lives were already shortened by something totally unrelated to COVID. They feel punished and when I walk through their door, I can’t help but feel like the punisher.
I spend a lot of time thinking about ways we can help our families have their last beautiful goodbye, their one last moment with someone they love despite the current way we are having to do things. Working in hospice reminds me daily how precious and fragile life is, COVID has reminded me how important it is to make every moment matter, and more importantly, not to wait for the bedside to say those important things.
I want to share a quote from John Muir…
“A few minutes ago, every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But although to the outer ear, these trees are now silent, their songs will never cease”.
Before COVID we took a lot for granted, we laughed and played as though we had day after day to do it all over again. And that was fun. But now, we are made very aware of our own fragility and we are in many ways, silenced… but we will laugh and play again, our songs won’t ever be ceased… we will just sing them with far more passion and appreciation than we ever thought possible.
We are stronger because of this time, and like a tree during a crazy storm, we may lose a few branches but we will survive.
Photo credit: Paul Marto Martophotography.pixels.com