An interview with a Registered Nurse
“A pandemic is not what we chose, but a pandemic is still what we’ll do.”
This quote is from my sister, one of the millions of nurses across the globe that was battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nicole is a Registered Nurse at a local hospital, and already in her first year of being a nurse in the field, she was confronted with the unprecedented world of the COVID unit.
I am truly inspired by her, and all the other healthcare workers for the true grit and selflessness they have displayed in the past year. I decided to ask her some questions, so we could all take away some bits of advice on how to stay well during the pandemic. So please make yourself comfortable, and read up on the inside scoop of the healthcare world in 2021, and how workers stay positive.
(Responses edited for clarity and length)
Q: What are your tips for staying mentally and physically healthy?
A: “Physically, wash your hands, and take care of yourself. Eat good, rest, drink lots of water. It’s not always easy to do, but these are things you can do to take it back to the basics when you don’t feel well. Mentally, try to do something you like to do, even if it’s just for a short period of time. Sometimes a quick reset is all you need to get you back into the swing of things.”
Q: How do you decompress?
A: “I spend time taking care of no one but myself, or having to worry about anyone else. I also like to be outside. I like to self-pamper like taking a bath, washing my face, doing my nails, and working out. On my few off days, I like to pack them with time with friends and family.“
Q: Do you see anything positive coming from this pandemic in terms of the healthcare field?
A: “I feel a few positives would be, first showing how valuable nurses are. We are more than just a nurse, we are there for the most crucial moments in their lives.”
“Another positive is that we are going through something for the first time together, so we are forced to brainstorm and work together even more, which I think is a good takeaway to have for the rest of our careers.”
Q: How are you and other healthcare workers feeling now vs. at the beginning?
A: “At the very beginning no one knew what to expect, so there was fear and uncertainty. Then there was success and excitement when things started to go right when we started to figure some things out and be more prepared. But now there’s honestly just a lot of exhaustion since it’s been close to a year of this. The vaccine helps give people some hope, but there’s good feelings and bad.”
Q: Do you think COVID nurses are feeling more exhausted in particular?
A: “Yes, there’s no question. There originally was an idea of ‘let me take it one shift at a time because that’s all that we’re prepared for’ whereas now it’s ‘let me take it one shift at a time because I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring.’ You can’t focus on how long the pandemic is going to last, focusing on today is all the mental capacity or energy we have right now.”
Hearing herself she gave a nervous laugh, “This sounds so negative,” but sometimes you have to go through the negative parts in life to truly appreciate the positive.
Q: How have the supplies or treatments evolved over time?
A: “At first we were told to conserve gloves because we simply did not have the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) that we needed. Now we struggle with simply having the sheer rooms for these people, or having enough staff to care for patients. [More rooms and more staff] are the supplies that we don’t have, and that’s something that you can’t really replace or prepare for. Another interesting thing is how much we have learned throughout, and how much the treatments have changed, such as our source of oxygen and medication.”
Q: What has been the thing you have struggled with or been challenged by the most?
A: “The most troubling struggle for me is that we don’t see most of our patients get better, most of our patients just get worse. Yes, we see some people get better, and those successes are nice to see because they help make up for the bad. It’s just hard not to dwell on all the bad sometimes. Another really frustrating thing is when people who haven’t seen the inside of a hospital or COVID unit feel that they should give their opinion or advice. It just feels like as a nurse right now, you can never do enough. And that thought wears on you. It’s all just exhausting.”
Q: What do you tell yourself during the really hard days and moments?
A: “First, I try to brush off the opinions of people that don’t know what it is like right now. As far as with the patients, it’s the little victories. It’s good to look back and think ‘even though I don’t feel like I had a good day, it was a good day because of these reasons’. I think it’s good to look at the positives because if you constantly dwell on the negative, you are really going to feel that burnout.”
Q: Lastly, is there anything you want to say to people outside of healthcare, or to your fellow healthcare workers?
A: “To other healthcare workers I would say: Keep it up, I know it’s exhausting, but someone is looking up to you. Someone is always looking at you thinking ‘wow they’ve got it together, they’re doing something good’. To families of loved ones in the hospitals: Trust that we are doing what we can. We feel for you not being able to see your loved ones, but we promise we love them and are treating them the best we can. To the general public: Don’t make a joke of things around nurses because we have seen things you can never even imagine, but we’ll never be the ones to complain about it. That’s because it’s the profession we chose, it’s the profession that we love. We will still be the nurses that will go running toward a situation instead of away.”
My parting thoughts
Nicole then rose from the couch, eager to get out of her scrubs from her shift. With my mom calling us for dinner, I sat there for a moment on the couch, feeling both thankful and astonished. I realized how lucky I was to be sitting next to a hero at the dinner table. We would not have made it through the last year without our healthcare heroes, and I want to make sure that will not go unnoticed. So if you are reading this, and you are in healthcare, thank you. Thank you for your absolute selflessness, and for the sacrifices you’ve made in your life for others. Keep your head up, and just know we are all looking up to you. I truly believe there is light at the end of the tunnel, and when we reach the other side, it will be because of you.