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

blessed

let it not be

thought that from the damage done

in youth rises the irreversible melancholy of despair

for the Lord is my rock

and my salvation

blessed is he who comes

and many are the angels who encamp

around the innocent who live

on and beyond the hard,

always toward the goal

of

peace

small

Strongholds are hard,

risk required

to break the generations

of shame declaring the healing worse

than the barbed wire chains of pride

encircling the light-bearers like hawks

searching for the small, burrow-ers

making their way among the vines and weeds

towards truth.