Of course, I love nurses; nursing is my profession. I am a nurse, although not a nurse you should expect to provide clinical care. I could probably explain it to you, tell you how it works or, better yet, where it fits in the delivery of health care in our community. Most likely, that’s not the nursing you need.
I simply haven’t had enough clinical practice to be what you think a good nurse is. What I have had are wonderful opportunities to be part of teams of health professionals who designed and delivered health services.
Despite not practicing much clinical nursing during my 50-plus-year career, I never lost my high regard for the importance of my profession to patient care. Nor have I lost my respect and admiration for the entire team of health professionals that bring highly skilled procedures, treatment and care to enable the sickest and most injured person to regain their quality of life or, if that not possible, provide skilled management and support to the dying and their families.
I don’t have adequate words to praise the work that is done to save lives and the dedication to preserving life that is the foundational tenet of health and medical care professions. Any one of us who has been or had a family member benefit from lifesaving medical and health care has experienced the same profound gratitude and loss of the right words to convey appreciation.
Lately and because of the renewed surge of COVID-19 severity resulting in intensive hospitalizations, front line physicians, providers, nurses and others are again working relentlessly to care for and do their best to save lives. Even though they may be confounded by the failure of many people to practice prevention be it vaccinations, masking and avoiding exposure who then end up under their care, they do their jobs without question which too often is filling in as family on death beds.
Unconditional health care
At the time of this writing, Olympic Memorial Hospital, is full, with 58 beds occupied — of which 17 are occupied by patients with severe COVID-19. The emergency department is holding patients until a bed opens.
Word in the community is don’t have your heart attack or car accident because you might not get care here or out of the area where hospitals are full of people with COVID nearly all unvaccinated.
It is sage but somewhat impractical advice given we often have no control over some events in our lives. The harsh fact is people have died waiting for some sort of space in a hospital. Although not a significant factor in deaths locally, Dr. Berry, the county’s health officer, reports that a significant delay in receiving needed care due to a delay in locating a hospital bed was a factor in a recent Clallam County COVID death.
Lest we forget, those services dependent on space are also dependent on having the necessary skilled professional in the emergency room and by the bed.
What the very sick for whatever reason can count on is that professional ethics and skill kick in the moment of arrival of the health care professional. The intent is to save lives whenever and wherever possible.
Most feel the wretched pain of the person who can’t breathe and wants to be vaccinated. The doctor must say it’s too late. Most feel the wretched sadness of the patient who must say goodbye for all time to a family crowded on the screen of an iPad.
The provider, the nurse, the therapists wish as much as the suffering and dying patients that it wasn’t happening.
The provider, the nurse wonder. Have not these severely ill patients seen sick people on ventilators or heard testimonials from dying patients? Did they not hear testimonials from nurse and doctors emotionally and physically exhausted by the work and the frequency of death despite their efforts?
Is it any wonder, that in moments of exhaustion and defeat, the care givers are disheartened, even disgusted by the arrogance, ignorance or both of people who expect them to be up and ready when they reap the consequence of their foolish decisions.
Is it any wonder that they are even more shocked that the political campaigners of anti-prevention and misinformation are targeting physicians, nurses and other health professionals who, while working hard to save lives of the unvaccinated, are encouraging people to practice prevention of COVID?
Yet they don’t stop trying to save lives.
Instead of doughnuts
Health professionals will accept but don’t expect tributes for doing their jobs; they are rewarded by success when lives are saved and quality of life restored. Still, they are often on the receiving end of sincere attempts to express our heartfelt gratitude for the care that may have saved a life or simply made one’s life easier.
Remember how meaningful it was when New York City residents went outside at 7 p.m. and clapped for all health professionals who put their own lives at risk to save lives from COVID before vaccines were available.
Being vaccinated may reduce the risk but it doesn’t prevent exhaustion from relentless physical and emotionally draining work of caring for the severely ill COVID patient. Alas, it is the stubborn resistance to public health and science that has our emergent health care access and our life saving personnel to this point.
What can we do to show our appreciation?
We can get vaccinated for and avoid exposure to COVID.
We can send letters of appreciation for posting on bulletin boards.
We can post appreciation on Facebook pages of institutions.
We can praise the vaccinated.
We can keep informed and talk with the unvaccinated willing to listen and learn.
We can support businesses that hold fast to rules that protect staff and customers from exposure to COVID.
We can elect people who refuse to politicize the delivery of health care and the prevention of disease.
Managing our schadenfreude
Nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and other health workers can be forgiven for seeing selfishness in the cavalier attitude of those who risk their own lives and flaunt the rule of keeping your COVID to yourself.
So can we ordinary vaccinated people be forgiven for our own resentment and anger as we return to masking, canceling celebrations and zoom. We can be forgiven for a bit schadenfreude when the bigger purveyors of vaccine misinformation get the dreaded COVID.
“Told you so!”
Forgiven until we remember our humanity and let it go.
Every bit of schadenfreude and resentment dissipates for most of us at the door of human suffering in the hospital, emergency room, scene of the accident and chapel of grieving.
It does for me, and I’m no saint. I’m a nurse.
Bertha Cooper, a featured columnist in the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation. Reach her at email@example.com.