Going home with no worries or responsibilities was now something of the past.
I always want to be involved in everything, but now I have to protect myself.
In two months, I’ll be a mother to my second child. As a former ER nurse and a current ICU nurse and rapid response team member, I have always been in the midst of the madness. Truthfully, it's where I feel a sense of self and belonging. It’s where I feel calm. Dealing with the sickest, most critical patients is where I feel at home and for COVID-19 it was no different. Except it was, because I no longer had only myself to consider but also my family and unborn child.
Recently, I faced an issue in my career I never thought would happen.
A COVID-19 patient was in cardiac arrest and the nurse in the patient’s room needed my help, but my feet wouldn’t move. I was paralyzed, thinking about my own kids, my family, the people I love. I needed to protect myself. I started handing off drugs through the door, doing everything I could without direct contact. I quickly recognized “helping” from outside was not helping my coworker.
So, I went in.
I helped with the patient, but after that, I knew things needed to change.
I couldn’t allow my team members to work alone, to continue making sacrifices to protect me. I was no longer able to help like I wanted, like I needed. I couldn’t work the way I love to work as a rapid response nurse. I needed to find another way to help and continue to support my team.
My mother wanted me to quit my job and stay home where I was safe, but quitting is something I just couldn’t do. I have worked as a nurse in this same hospital for 12 years, and I couldn’t imagine abandoning my team and patients when they needed me most.
My husband is also in the medical field as a physician. He is often on-call 24 hours a day throughout the month and has to finish work from home. Many nights when he is in our home office, I open the door to peek in to find him still working. He hears the door open every time. I know he does. It’s my way of nagging him to stop working already. Finally, I nag out loud, “How much longer are you going to be?”
I understand why he has to do it. I know his patients and his team need him, but I just miss having him by my side and don't like sleeping alone.
Eventually, there were rumors about turning the floor into a COVID-19 unit. I soon found out the unit was in need of a director. While I was not confident in my ability to accept the challenge, my coworkers and husband helped instill some much needed confidence in me that I could get the job done. At this point, I was willing to do whatever I could to help, to stay involved, as long as my kids were protected. So, I became the interim director of a COVID-19 ICU.
As the days went by in my new position, my hours started piling up, often over 60 per week.
The meetings. The questions. The emails. All of it wouldn’t stop.
I’d get up from my desk to go check in on a nurse who had a question and come back to 30 new emails.
I quickly felt behind with everything. To say I had a new respect for what my director did was an understatement. I had so much to do every day, and I didn’t want to leave any nurses without the information or direction they needed from me. At the end of a long shift, I no longer had relief by another nurse like I was used to. Going home with no worries or responsibilities was now something of the past.
After a long day, I would head home and quickly shower so I could spend time with my two-year-old son, Wyatt, for a few minutes before putting him to bed. Holding him in my arms is the best part of every day. These moments with him are what kept me going from day to day. Once he would fall asleep, I would head down to my husband’s office to start answering emails.
One night, my husband gently knocked on the door, peeked in, and asked, “How much longer are you going to be?”
I stop typing. The words penetrated the air. I took a deep breath, and thought, “My, how the tables have turned.” It was the first moment for us that week where I felt like I could drop my shoulders. I couldn’t get out of work-mode. I mean, he was totally joking with me, but I knew he needed me. I needed him, too.
We both looked at each other, and he whispered, “You’re great. You’ll get it all done. I’ll be upstairs when you are finished.”
Before I put my fingers back to work, I thought, “I’ve been missing out on what I love the most. My son, Wyatt. My husband. Being a mom. Even the madness at work. Am I missing out on being on the floor with my team? From the patients who need me most? Am I missing out on being the mom I could be?” — all while wondering if people were thinking I took the easy, selfish way out by not directly caring for COVID-19 patients.
Recently, we bought a playhouse for Wyatt because we can’t go to the park right now. It’s in the backyard. The other day, Wyatt was playing in it for a while. I watched him while sitting on the porch — taking in each moment of his joy while playing, but also reflecting on the past month.
Maybe, it was then I realized — it’s not that I’m missing out on any of these things, but that I just need to learn to balance all of my responsibilities evenly and be present when I am there. I can be in the moments I love most, attentively and fully, no matter how far and few in between those moments are.
I slowly walked over to Wyatt’s playhouse, step by step. I knocked on the little door, he opened. I said, this time with a small smile, “How much longer are you going to be?”
I hope to one day become a leader I would want to follow and a mother my children love and respect.
I was there. I didn’t miss out. I gave it my all. My story is just a little different than I thought it would be.