Until the masks come off
When I was in my early twenties, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and given a year to live. I sat at her bedside and talked about all of the things I thought we could do in that year, asking her about places she had always dreamt of going and things she had always wished she had done. Dismissing me, she said, “you always see things through rose colored glasses”, and a year later she died.
She was right, I do see things through rose colored glasses, my glass is almost always half full and from where I stand, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. All of these are what has kept me optimistic and hopeful during these months of COVID. But it hasn’t been easy. I believed we would get through this, and although it would be with a few scars, we would all come out of it stronger.
But despite my best efforts I feel like COVID is finally taking its toll on me and I am really having a hard time staying positive and optimistic. The other day I sat at the bedside of a patient with COVID who was isolated and dying alone in his room. When I got to his room, there were two thick pieces of plastic covering the door, which just felt so frightening and inhumane to me as I walked through them to get to him. I understood the reasoning behind it, but it still caused me panic and sadness. As I sat with him, all I could think was that he was dying alone, with no one he loved to hold his hand. I called his wife and held the phone to his ear and sat and listened to her tell him how much she loved him. This wasn’t the first time I had to do this, and it won’t be the last. This is not how it is supposed to be.
After that visit, when I got out to my car and removed the layers of personal protective equipment, sanitizing everything (twice) before I got into my car, hoping I removed any spec of COVID that might have found its way onto my clothing, my shoes or my skin… I cried. This has become my new normal and I honestly don’t know how much more of it I can take.
I am blessed to share the work I do with some pretty incredible human beings, and while we love what we do, COVID has really added to the weight we bare. And yet we continue to find a way to support people at the end of their life and the loved ones who are preparing to say goodbye. We do this covered head to toe in gowns, gloves, booties, shields and masks, and we have found new ways to hold hands and hug those whose hearts are aching. We look in the mirror at the creases in our faces, we breathe out our panic attacks from the claustrophobia, and at the end of the day we drag ourselves to bed so we can be rested for the next day when we do it all over again.
I have always tried to be someone who respected the choices of others, and while I have my own opinions, I accept that we all do not, and will not, always agree. Initially when I heard the comments about COVID being a hoax, or some kind of conspiracy, I rolled my eyes, but I accepted, once again, that we do not all think the same. I can’t do that anymore. I find my anger growing each day at the people who are choosing not to wear a mask. I truly believe that if we all wore a mask from day one, if we all followed the same protocols and guidelines, and if we worked harder to respect one another, maybe the numbers would be lower, maybe this could be closer to being over by now, and maybe there would be less people losing someone they love.
My fear is real, so is the fear of everyone I work with, every frontline and essential worker, every family member or loved one who might be immunocompromised and anyone who feels love for another human being. So, if you are wondering why we might get angry that some people are not wearing a mask or taking this pandemic seriously, maybe you can appreciate where we are coming from. Maybe you can appreciate that we are scared every single day, and yet we continue to put ourselves out there so that (at least in my line of work) people feel cared for, supported and do not die alone. Am I angry? Yes… I am very angry that there are still people out there who do not take this seriously. We are not being asked to cut off our right arm or donate a kidney, and if these masks can lower our risks even in a small way, it seems like a pretty easy request to honor.
Until the masks come off, until we can hug again, and until COVID is finally a time in our past that we can look back on with relief that it is gone, I ask of you to please be respectful of those around you and wear a mask. If you can’t do this for yourself or the people you love, please do it for me, the people I love and all the people I meet every single day who are either dying alone, or saying goodbye to someone who is dying alone, through a window, or over the phone.
And until the masks come off, please keep supporting all of the people who are working day after day during these difficult times; keep the signs in the windows, the comments of hope, and strength over social media, and keep checking on the people you know and love, as well as your neighbors and those who might be feeling really alone right now.
I am not ready to give up hope yet, and while the creases in my face from my N95 seem to take longer to fade… I still see things through rose colored glasses, my glass is half full and I see the light at the end of tunnel. And hope is my favorite four letter word.
Photo credit: Thank you Lisa Ouellette for allowing me to use this beautiful photo. You can see more of her work at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lisakayaks/50772027872/