The Fourth Floor

15 Apr

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About a week and a half ago, I got a phone call from my educator telling me that I was being moved from the ER to a makeshift Covid floor that they had installed on the fourth floor above the emergency room. I knew something like this was likely coming as most of my other nursing friends around New York City have also been shifted around to units that exclusively treat Coronavirus patients, but I was still nevertheless heartbroken. I had been training for 8 months to be an ER nurse, and in the matter of a day, all of my hard work felt like it was pulled from me. I was to be given one day of training into a whole different type of nursing. Oh, and I was being moved to the night shift.

It’s grim. It’s bleak. There are moments of light that I grasp onto and try to repeat over and over to myself in my mind, but the image of watching people struggle for air as they slip closer to death without family or friends by their side is haunting. On my first night, a couple of hours into my shift, I was given a transfer patient who was DNR (do no resuscitate) and was completely unresponsive. Her head was contorted backwards with her mouth open as she gasped for air. As I was instructed to do for a new admission, I took vital signs on her and listened to her lung sounds, roiling with the sounds of fluid as she slowly drowned.

I remember thinking, “How do I process this? How do I deal with this and with all that is still to come?” And I realized I can’t. I just have to do my job, and I’ll work through the trauma at a later date. Neither me nor any of my fellow healthcare workers have the luxury right now to take a mental health day or to see a therapist. It’s the first time that this whole pandemic felt like actual war to me. What it must be like to be on a battlefield, surrounded by death and the only option is to keep going, to keep fighting, because that’s the only way through. No end date. No idea when the resolution will come. Just keep fighting.

I love being a nurse, but right now, I dread my job. I never wanted to be an inpatient nurse (which is what I am now), especially not dealing with hospice care. I have a deep well of respect for those nurses, but I always knew it was not the type of cloth that I was cut from, that my heart was not built to endure or sustain this kind of work. But I’ve been drafted, and I don’t have a choice. I ride the lonely subway to work. I put on layer after layer of protective gear. Masks that make me gasp for air throughout my shift, gowns that trap heat and make me sweat, face shields that cut into my forehead. I try to do the best job I can and offer as much compassion as I have stored within me to each patient, then I go home to my lonely apartment and try to sleep through the daylight until the night comes, and I have to go back again.

Moments of light, though. Brief, beautiful, savory moments of light. My schizophrenic patient who is often confused and disoriented and asks me repeatedly if she can stay in bed (she’s homeless and used to being kicked out of places.)
“I’d be very happy if you stayed in this bed until you feel better,” I told her.
“Oh good,” she replied, relaxing a little. “Then I’m going to go back to sleep, and I wish you luck doing whatever you have to do in all that gear. Good night. I love you.”
“I love you too.”

An elderly dementia patient who asked another exhausted nurse to put on a ballgame for him. She explained there is no baseball and that it was the middle of the night. I got one of our iPads for him and pulled up the 1986 world series games for him on Youtube. I set it up on the table in front of him.
“I just wish I could bring you a hot dog,” I told him.
“Oh, I miss hot dogs so much.” He looked at me. “I know I keep asking you, but I’m waiting for your answer on my marriage proposal.”
I laughed awkwardly, not knowing what to say.
“It’s just that you are the most beautiful woman in the world,” he continued. Remember that I am wearing two masks, goggles, face shield, bouffant, gown, gloves.
“You can’t see me under all this gear!” I remind him.
“But darling, you look beautiful no matter what outfit you’re wearing.”

Moments of light. Moments of light. Long 12-hour night shifts with brief moments of light before I walk out into the early morning sunlight and head home to try and sleep.

3 Responses to “The Fourth Floor”

  1. Sue Knight April 15, 2020 at 7:02 am #

    Oh Chrissy, my heart hurts from reading this, and I’m glad. You’ve put so much out there so eloquently about the raw, almost incomprehensibly difficult experience you’re in the midst of. Not just in the midst of, but helping. Providing moments of caring and support that mean everything to a fellow human being. My deep desire is for those moments of caring and support for you. Thank you for helping us to, these other human beings out in the world, to understand.

  2. deborah1005 April 15, 2020 at 9:02 am #

    No words suffice. Just know you are in my thoughts and I’m here. As always your beautiful thoughtful words are powerful.

  3. Nancy Rowlinson April 22, 2020 at 2:55 pm #

    We love your blog, and style of writing. Now, I want a hot dog, though! That was a great idea, getting him some great ballgames to watch. We love you, and for all you do, as well! You are in our thoughts and prayers! Love you!

    Us

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