I Did Not Feel Like A Hero

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by Brooke Schmidt Brooke Schmidt, BSN, RN (New)

Specializes in Geriatrics, palliative care, wound care, writing. Has 10 years experience.

A personal reflection on being a community care nurse during the pandemic. The struggle that I felt when others called me a hero when I did not feel like one.

I do not feel like a Hero ... I don’t think I ever did.

I Did Not Feel Like A Hero

I remember the early days of the pandemic- signing up for my free crocs and free slippers, showing my badge at the chick-fil-a drive-thru for free lunch. My neighbors rang bells and cheered at night. For a few short minutes, I thought I felt like a hero. But the reality quickly set in that I was pregnant, I was working on the front lines, and I was fighting for the very thing people are now celebrating the end of- wearing a mask.

During the first few weeks of the lockdown, we were told we could only wear a mask for Covid positive patients or those with known exposures and symptoms. As a community care nurse, I was walking the halls of nursing homes and assisted living facilities and going into patients' homes with no protection. Once we were allowed to wear masks, they needed to last the whole day, the same paper-thin masks we were told to dispose of after each patient in the past. They needed us to collect our used masks to be cleaned so that we didn’t run out. They ultimately asked that we stop wearing makeup because it prevented the masks from being re-used. I did not feel like a Hero.

People were scared; I was scared. The facilities I worked with were receiving little to no guidance. They didn’t have access to masks and supplies, and even if they did, they didn’t have the money to afford them. I had caregivers calling saying they couldn’t find toilet paper or soap to provide basic services to their clients. They would ask me if I had masks or gloves to spare, but I didn’t. I would sit in my care and cry that I was having to choose my safety and my unborn child's safety over giving the mask off my face to another person in need.  A memory care I visited required the nurses to stand outside and spray their bodies with Lysol before entering. I mentally started calculating if the risk to the frail elderly inside from my visit was greater than me covering my pregnant body in chemicals. I did not feel like a hero.

I struggle to find the words to describe what it was like walking into a nursing home with biohazard signs and caution tape on the door. Visibly pregnant hoping my mask was enough to protect me as I pushed through the plastic. Seeing fear on the faces of the staff as they went room to room helping me swab noses. All of us hoping the results came back negative. I did not feel like a hero.

I’m not sure ultimately what was worse, the fear of COVID or the sheer pain of the isolation placed on our elders. They were separated from their families and shut behind doors. I was often the only conversation or connection to the outside world they would experience that day.  As time went on and people had “pandemic fatigue,” they had the choice to resume activities and socialize with friends. As they stared at me in the grocery store still masked, as my family shook their heads when I declined their invitation to a party, as my kids stayed inside, I did not feel like a hero. I carry the torch for the ones I cared for that still don’t have a choice. I carry the torch for the pregnant healthcare workers, people who are immunocompromised. I carry the torch because I cannot forget the fear I felt and the fear I saw in others.

As I look back and reflect on the pain, loneliness, and isolation over the past years. I shed tears over the hands I held at the end; their last words, thoughts, and breaths were witnessed by me and not by their families. I am grateful I was there when others were not able to be. I am grateful for the child I brought into the world amid the chaos. I am grateful for the choices I made to protect those around me when the rest of the world moved on.

But as the Hero signs have come down, the free lunches are long forgotten ...

I do not feel like a Hero ... I don’t think I ever did.

Brooke Schmidt is a registered nurse with 10+ years of experience with a focus in geriatrics and palliative care. Brooke spends her free time with her two young children exploring the Pacific Northwest.

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11 Comment(s)

Nancy Ross Bell

Nancy Ross Bell, RN

Specializes in Nurse Writer, Managed Care, Quality. Has 48 years experience. 1 Article; 5 Posts

Even though you might not feel like a hero, please give me the satisfaction of still feeling like you ARE a hero!  Being retired from active nursing, I did not experience what you did, but I admired all healthcare professionals from afar who experienced what you did. Thank you.

Brooke Schmidt, BSN, RN

Specializes in Geriatrics, palliative care, wound care, writing. Has 10 years experience. 2 Articles; 14 Posts

Thank you for your kind words, I appreciate them!

adventure_rn, BSN

Specializes in NICU, PICU. 1 Article; 1,544 Posts

I have really struggled with this feeling after codes. In my head, I know that I helped save someone's life, which is theoretically pretty "heroic," but I never felt like it. Usually I was having a terrified fight or flight response, wondering what I could have missed to prevent the code or how I could have done better, and feeling terrible for the children and families even if the code was run as well as possible. The precise stuff that's glorified on TV as being "heroic" always made me feel the worst, and I found that disconnect really unsettling. 

 

Brooke Schmidt, BSN, RN

Specializes in Geriatrics, palliative care, wound care, writing. Has 10 years experience. 2 Articles; 14 Posts

So well said! Thank you for sharing. 

Numenor

Specializes in rounding on the floors probably. Has 10 years experience. 552 Posts

I really feel like the TikTok brigade and opportunistic travelers hurt whatever "heroship" nurses deserved. A lot of my nonnursing friends noticed this during COVID and their perspective definitely changed as the months went on. I don't blame them.

JBMmom, MSN, NP

Specializes in New Critical care NP, Critical care, Med-surg, LTC. Has 10 years experience. 4 Articles; 2,284 Posts

I never felt like a hero. I worked in the ICU throughout the pandemic. But I was no more a hero than any other nurse who was working to serve their patient population. I think we're people that chose a profession that involves caring for others when they need it most. We didn't sign up to do it only when it was convenient or easy for us, we committed to it. There are hard working nurses, there are lazy nurses. There are nurses that are truly exceptional human beings and some that are crappy human beings. We're all human and we all did what we could during some really awful times. We were scared at times, angry, frustrated, confused, and we dealt with management and a whole society that showed us both worship and disdain simultaneously. When I walk out at the end of a shift, if I know in my heart my patients are better off for me having been there, that's enough for me. What other people think of me, for better or worse, doesn't matter in the end. Congratulations on your child, enjoy the time, they will grow so fast. 

kbrn2002, ADN, RN

Specializes in Geriatrics, Dialysis. Has 20 years experience. 3,701 Posts

I was never bothered by the public appreciating the nursing profession. I was and am bothered and a little, OK maybe a lot disgusted by the companies that employ us not putting their money where there mouth is.  All the stupid "Heroes Work Here!" signs would gladly have been traded in for another actual nurse or two. Maybe adequate PPE?  Or how about paying the nurses you have a decent enough wage to not have to resort to paying ridiculous amounts of money to travel staff because you couldn't keep the staff you had or convince new staff that you were a good place to come to work?

Anna1234

Anna1234

Specializes in Nursing Student. 134 Posts

I love your story... I never knew masks were being reused. 

Edited by Anna1234

Brooke Schmidt, BSN, RN

Specializes in Geriatrics, palliative care, wound care, writing. Has 10 years experience. 2 Articles; 14 Posts

Yes, it was very scary and unknown in the early days. I am so glad we all have access to PPE now!

Tweety, BSN, RN

Specializes in Med-Surg, Trauma, Ortho, Neuro, Cardiac. Has 30 years experience. 32,317 Posts

 Through some dumb luck of the draw the unit I worked on was designated "never covid" because we had surgical patients.  So I certainly never felt like a hero.  During the time surgery was closed we took in nursing home residents that came from a place that was closed due to a covid outbreak and I floated to the covid unit.  Many times I was exposed to a patient that I thought was negative that turned positive.

I finally caught covid two months ago for the first time.

While "hero" might be a stretch, I do think that nurses that stepped up to the plate, especially when we didn't know much at first, knowing that other nurses had died from covid, and took care of covid positive patients were indeed courageous.  Many nurses made the choice to quit (for a variety of valid reasons).  

 

Brooke Schmidt, BSN, RN

Specializes in Geriatrics, palliative care, wound care, writing. Has 10 years experience. 2 Articles; 14 Posts

On 10/14/2022 at 4:03 AM, Tweety said:

 Through some dumb luck of the draw the unit I worked on was designated "never covid" because we had surgical patients.  So I certainly never felt like a hero.  During the time surgery was closed we took in nursing home residents that came from a place that was closed due to a covid outbreak and I floated to the covid unit.  Many times I was exposed to a patient that I thought was negative that turned positive.

I finally caught covid two months ago for the first time.

While "hero" might be a stretch, I do think that nurses that stepped up to the plate, especially when we didn't know much at first, knowing that other nurses had died from covid, and took care of covid positive patients were indeed courageous.  Many nurses made the choice to quit (for a variety of valid reasons).  

 

Courageous is such a good word to describe nurses. Thank you for sharing!