By Betty R.N.
As a critical care nurse, an ER nurse and a flight nurse for the last 12 years, I have always known the, “what, why, how and where” of any situation and can easily anticipate and change accordingly to multiple evolving circumstances…when, however, first establishing the “scene if safe”. It doesn’t take a critical care nurse in the intensive care unit to know that we are amidst some very stressful and uncertain times and it is unclear, to me, if the “scene is safe”. Add raising a 5-year-old with a difficult co-parent and you have got a recipe for understandable panic.
I am a 45 year old single mom and critical care nurse in the ICU at a local hospital. Life has been good to me and despite the obvious every day challenges, I think I have a pretty good grasp on balancing the two.
Today, however, there is a very understandable and overwhelming sense of panic and uncertainty, as I am on the front lines of this pandemic, the COVID-19 outbreak. The health of my son is concerning to me, and of course my own health is at risk, as well as the community as a whole. I no longer have the answers to the questions of “what, why, how and where”. My duty, as God has given me, is to do exactly what he’s called me to do and without question, however, my priority is to keep my son and his health from compromise.
So, my typical workdays are consecutive, 3-4. My son is with his father during this time. I care for very sick patients and I take all the precautions to hopefully prevent cross contamination and I change out of my scrubs in the parking lot, putting them safely in a plastic bag, shoes go in another, hoping that I am doing the right thing by continuing to go to work in the heart of the breeding ground of a deadly organism. Exhausted, after 3-4, 15 hour days, I am looking forward to a day off, only to have a sudden surge of panic and then desperately attempt to search for all the press releases I have missed by the health department and the POTUS in order to be informed. These attempts have always resulted in failure because my need for rest has been decided without my conscious permission.
The morning of my first day off starts off with sheer terror of #1 not being informed with current information, #2 not having had the time to disinfect my house before my son comes home, and #3 rationalizing whether or not my son should even come home. Identifying and discussing these concerns with my co-parent has proven to be a blame and accusation protest against me, so I ultimately allow for being berated because I have no energy to defend my thought process. It is clear that my concerns are unwarranted and my son will soon be home. It is at this time that I experience the peak of emotional instability. This has been the routine for the last 4 weekends. Thank God for my family, they have been the best support system for us. Caleb and I have been truly blessed by their love and support.
After my son arrives home, it is a challenge for the first 2 days to allow him to hold me, kiss me, hug me, sit next to me and it breaks my heart because suddenly, I am not the person he knows. We go on our morning walks, I attempt to follow through with the curriculum that has been sent home for him by his teachers, handwriting without tears. You can be sure that I am the one crying after just 10 minutes. I have made a point to put all electronics away and play outside in the backyard, play in the hose, have art and music time. These are usually disastrous because, as you know, my son is very sweet…but he is still a 5-year-old.
By my third day off, I feel a bit more relaxed and my son gets some genuine physical attention from me. Things are looking good and by day number four we feel normal and by day five, we start this entire disruptive and quite honestly, dysfunctional, cycle over again.
I have to say that even during these uncertain times and as the predicted surge is said to be coming, that I am ready to care for my community. If there is one thing I want to teach my son, it is that everything I do is based on love and courage. And there can be no fault in acting out of genuine concern for others. I hope I do not get sick, but if I do, I hope he remembers me this way.
I’d like to give a shout out to Brian Parnell for sharing his journey, trusting my professional judgement enough to answer his questions and opening up channels of communication when, whether he knew it or not, I needed a friend just to talk to about anything. He responded to me at any time of day or night and it made a difference to me.
I also have to say that throughout my years of nursing, notably during the rapid escalation of my career to becoming a flight nurse, Helicopter Emergency Medical Services and while adjusting to the reality of single motherhood, the CV music scene has kept me going, allowing me to release all the burdens I willingly and consciously absorb while attending to the sick and injured, so I can make room for more and also helping me get back to who I am. Without people like Aaron R, Robert P, Tracy and Phil, Brian P, Paul C, Johnny S, Melinda, Nikkola E, Rob G (yes, even Troy Z), also, Danny W, Colleen D and Marcus B, my heart and soul thanks those three every day. Music brings me back and the entire scene, I feel, are my family, even if we only see each other once in a while. Thanks so very much for all you do. You are the heroes in my world!