Some heartfelt truths from a hospice nurse during COVID
As the weeks and now months pass me by, I find myself feeling less and less hopeful that we will get through this any time soon, and I am not liking that part about myself right now. I started out being the one who tried to stay positive and encourage others, using words like “hope”, reminding others to hold onto them tightly and trust in them with everything that they had. My sparkle is starting to dull, but hope continues to whisper in my ear, “don’t forget about me, I am still here”. I want so badly to believe, but it feels as though it is buried under a pile of dust, and very difficult to see.
One of the things my hospice colleagues and I struggle with most is not being able to hug or touch our patients and their families without a glove or a gown in between us. Not being able to hold the hand of someone who was dying or hug the person who had to say goodbye was painful for me. I honestly believed I couldn’t do my job if this was taken from me. I know I am not alone.
On my bathroom sink, I have two rocks, some sea glass and a little white shell that are piled on top of each other; I knock them over all the time. Around the time COVID first reared its ugly head, if I knocked them over I would get frustrated as if they did that just to push my buttons, because they somehow knew I was feeling fragile . One day they fell over and I was feeling frustrated and overwhelmed and I threw them onto the ground. They didn’t break, instead they lay there as if to say, “we are fragile, but we are not broken”, and I knew somehow that was the Universe telling me the same. Now when they topple over, I take my time and set them back up again with intention and slow breaths. It is a gentle reminder to let things go, a ritual I have grown quite fond of.
Someone asked me recently how I was doing, and my usual response of, “I am fine”, or “I am holding up” seemed to almost choke me as I tried to say the words, because they weren’t true, and I wasn’t being honest. Some days I feel like I am breaking into a million pieces that are slowly falling at my feet and I can’t seem to pick them up without cutting myself. My eyes feel like they are constantly burning from the pressure of holding in the tears, but I refuse to cry over this, I refuse to give it any more than I already have.
At first it was really hard for me to do this work with the glove and gown barriers, but I soon realized it was me that gave them the power to chip at me and once I stopped, once I found a way to still ooze that hospice compassion, I realized that nothing can take that from me; I just have to learn a new way of doing things still using my same beautiful heart.
I have learned that holding the hand of someone who is dying, even with a glove on, can still provide the reassurance they are not doing it alone. And I have learned that my words can provide comfort, my presence is powerful, and my heart can still be shared despite it all. COVID cannot take that away from me.
The other day I responded to a death and as I walked toward the front door, I could hear loud music playing, and voices trying to talk over it. I walked through the door and down the hallway through a tunnel of 40+ family and friends, none of whom were wearing masks. A part of me envied them for not having the fears I feel, the other part of me was angry that they weren’t wearing them, if not for the safety of everyone else in the room, at least for the nurse who just walked through the door. And meanwhile, I stood there for two hours, covered head to toe in PPE, sweating and starting to itch and feeling so uncomfortable I just wanted to cry… feeling my eyes start to burn (again) from holding back my tears. Even the music, which I would have normally enjoyed, faded. When I was leaving, I could hear the sound of the ice cream truck out front and watched as a group of happy little kids gathered around it, excitedly screaming out their orders. I smiled despite it all, thinking I really need to stop getting myself all worked up. One of the young girls, who had been inside the house, came up to me and said, “thank you for being here”. How can I possibly be mad at that? It shifted my mood. It reminded me why I was there and what I do.
How am I feeling? Some days are really hard, and some days I think I cannot do this anymore, but then someone says, “thank you for being here”, and I know that I am exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I also realize now that I never actually gave up on hope, I just had to dust it (and myself) off a bit to help us both find our sparkle again.