A tale of two cities: a nurse in the midst of COVID

It was the best of times…

…buds on trees and people walking their dogs and riding their bikes and setting groceries on the stoops of shut ins and dads playing with their kids on front lawns on sunny spring days and seamstresses sewing masks and the camaraderie of nurses and doctors and RTs and PTs and OTs and techs and social workers, best of friends bracing for all we trained and live for. 

It was the worst of times…

…numbers tripling, front lines failing, ventilator rationing, health care workers dying, jobs disappearing, shelves emptying, spirits falling, and ice rinks converting to morgues.

It was the age of wisdom…

…people listening to experts, families staying at home and washing hands and honoring others and nodding at each other from across the street in the name of humaneness and humanity as scientists hunch over lab tables and doctors trial hope and administrators shuffle beds and recycle masks and try to do no harm to their very own.

It was the age of foolishness…

…sacrificing loved ones in the name of beaches and bikinis and sex and selfishness and helplessness and saying efforts are exaggerated and overblown and it’s all a farce and all partisan and parties like 1999 with utter disregard for life.

It was the epoch of belief…

…that a Sovereign is bigger than a disease, that a Savior is in the midst of our feverish terror, that waters recede and oceans part and stones eventually roll away.

It was the epoch of incredulity…

…that our invincible selves and invincible lives and invincible stocks and bank accounts and high falutin’ stuff means absolutely nothing after all in the face of an invisible monster.

It was the season of Light…

…candles still burning on birthday cakes, stars all the brighter in still, cool nights, porch lights beacons testifying to resilience surviving behind closed doors.

It was the season of Darkness…

…masks unable to hide the wide-eyed dread health care workers feel facing patient after patient gasping for air, lungs filling with fluid, kidneys failing, hearts clinging to life, praying for miracles, all the while praying they aren’t the next ones to get the virus and end up being the ones who are turned and cleaned and suctioned and assessed and treated in vain.

It was the spring of hope…

…daffodils blooming and hyacinths cheering on the arrival of green and growing life, nature blissful in ignorance and all the while eager in its pursuit of tomorrow. 

It was the winter of despair…

…nurses wearing trash bags and patients draped and dying and families watching from screens, only watching, via (face)time as their mothers and brothers and fathers and daughters lives slip away, alone, behind impermeable (im)personal protective equipment, no one to touch them, no one to hold them, no one to tell them it’s okay to go, the rest of us will carry on. Alone. But for the nurses. Who help them leave. 

We had everything before us…

…weddings and tournaments, graduations and bar mitzvahs, play dates and class projects and concerts, baptisms and golden anniversaries and last trips to the beach, and new jobs and new homes and all the reasons to live as though the world would never end.

We had nothing before us…

…no end in sight, no cures, no answers, no end to the rising numbers of patients, no slowing of fibrillating Wall Street and rising unemployment, no toilet paper, no rice, no bread, no break.

We were all going direct to Heaven…

…at least we hoped so, the ones who lay in ICUs with unwanted tubes breathing for them, and unwanted machines replacing their kidneys, and nurses and doctors and aides and hospital workers not quitting because we don’t quit and won’t quit and we never, ever quit.

We were all going direct the other way…

…the ones who blame and shame and hoard and elbow through restrictions because they deserve to and don’t care and don’t try to understand this is not a hoax even though it feels like a great big huge one, and even though we want more than anything, in the middle of the night, to wake up and be able to laugh at what a ridiculous nightmare, what a strange and ludicrous joke the brain is playing on us because this can’t possibly be real. 

Can it?

 

*Lines in bold from the first paragraph of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities

Flattening the curve of my heart

“I don’t think I’m handling this very well,” I said to my husband yesterday.

“This,” of course, being the great virus calamity that is before us all.

Oh, I guffaw with everyone else at all the memes. I’m a nurse, after all. An expert at inappropriate and irreverent humor.

 

But lately most nights, around 3 a.m., my eyes pop open and I feel a great dark shadow looming over me, reminding me that this is not a normal night. Tomorrow will not be a normal day. There well be no more normal days again, as we knew them.

 

I don’t want to feel this way. I want to embrace the Pollyanna’s of poets and sages, or sing praise music, or trust the words of other writers and theologians telling us to look for the silver linings in all of this. 

 

Maybe that time will come for me. 

 

But for now, I got nothin’.

 

For now,

this all really sucks. 

There. 

I said it. 

I’ve been telling myself to write blog posts all week, posts to uplift and encourage and bring hope to the midst of this awful ache. That is my mantra as a writer, after all. Words of hope in the midst of the hard.

But I don’t have any words like that in me right now. Even when I dig deep, I can’t find them.

I didn’t want to write a blog post like this, but then I started thinking, what if everyone else really feels like this, too? What if the people writing good and pleasant and hopeful words are making it up, and underneath we all really just feel like this all really sucks?

My cousin who is the best pastor I know (even though he’s never had a traditional pulpit) told me to read a Psalm for a bit of comfort. Good stuff, the Psalms.

But right now, I’m feeling a little more like Lamentations. 

How deserted lies the city,
    once so full of people!

Lamentations 1:1

(The book goes downhill from there.)

 

It’s not in my nature to write about despair without offering the balance of hope. But today, I can’t help it. Any maybe someone else needs to hear that. 

Maybe someone else needs to know that it’s okay if you are mad about moving that wedding you’ve been planning for a year, or not walking across that stage at your college in May, or losing your retirement fund when you’re 64 1/2, or losing your business just when you were on the verge of making a profit for the first time. 

Maybe someone else needs to know it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and helpless that the schools are closed and you have no child care and you can’t call off work another time.

Maybe someone else needs to know it’s okay if you’re feeling constantly on the verge of a panic attack because you’re a nurse like me or a physician or an EMT, and based on the constant updates at work, PPE and Purel make us feel like we’re wielding wet noodles at The Terminator. 

Maybe someone else needs to know it’s alright to be furious about it all. 

I’m sorry I don’t have much more to say than this today. 

I tried a little self-care the last couple of days by bringing out some paint and canvases. My own little wine and canvas party.

I painted a couple of barns. 

And when I looked up, the sun was setting. 

Fire orange and fuchsia pink right outside my back door. 

The sun seems angry, too. 

There’s no crying in…COVID-19?

“Remember, there’s no crying in baseball,” Tom Hanks said recently when interviewed about his experience with testing positive for COVID-19 (coronavirus).

No crying in baseball, indeed.

But this ain’t baseball.

Not even close.

Yesterday, I forgot about my own advice on holding on to hope and pushing fear aside as I reached for the last box of Hot Pockets in the grocery freezer.

I never buy Hot Pockets.

Like, never, ever.

A man rolled his cart past me and we eyeballed each other. I took one look in his basket, full of a variety of frozen burritos that he appeared to have strong-armed in there like a bulldozer, and I set the Hot Pockets back.

I moved on, feeling smaller and more panicked by the minute as I passed the empty freezer cases, past a stray package of frozen eggplant, a frozen, cauliflower crust extra olive pizza, a section of frozen corn on the cob with obvious freezer burn.

On and on the empty sections gaped at me, and I back at them.

No rice.

No beef.

No chicken.

What in the world?

There are no shortages, the press tries to remind us.

This is not a natural disaster, the media drones.

If only everyone takes what they need, they say.

What I need is for my senior college nursing student to be able to take his long-awaited mission trip to the Dominican Republic that is now cancelled.

What I need is for my middle college son, studying in New York City, to come home before they lock down the area or the airports to travel.

What we all need is assurance that we will come out the other side of this unscathed.

No wonder England printed those signs during war times:

Keep calm.

Easy for them to say.

Easy for anyone to say.

Hard, so very hard, for us to do.

What was it Mr. Rogers said? Look for the helpers? We could all use a helper about now, that’s for sure.

But we can help each other.

That’s the one sure thing we do have, right? Each other?

Social distancing doesn’t mean heart distancing, after all.

We can post our own signs of keeping calm, signs like kindness, like patience, like checking on each other.

We can take care of ourselves, too.

Having flown just days ago, I am reminded to put on my own oxygen mask before helping the person seated next to me. That means reaching for the tools I have been taught to use to keep my PTSD at bay,

things like writing and painting,

my dogs,

my family,

and my faith.

In this world, we will have trouble, that much is certain. Life can strip us from much. Plans and markets and governments can quake.

But we can know we are not alone.

And we can love, and love well.

Oh, and we can eat Mexican food. (If you’re local, I highly recommend Luciana’s!)

Take good care, friends.

Take good care.