Sometimes I feel like we are living in another world lately. I often wonder, are we still here eighteen months later? It seems surreal. I am 53 years old and have been in nursing since 1995. One of the most difficult and scary times I remember in my career is when I was first in nursing school and heard the word AIDS. Fast forward to 2020, and now the scariest word I have heard is COVID because the feeling I get when I hear it is the same. Now I know they are not in the same realm but, I do remember the feeling well and nothing else has come close. I remember almost rethinking my career choice at the time as a result. In retrospect, I am so thankful I pushed through and did not succumb to the fear. This COVID, though is a different beast for sure.
In my career, I have never seen so much disrespect, dishonor and anger amongst my peers and colleagues. This is not just in my professional life but personal as well. There are families being torn apart, friendships broken and strangers fighting over the most trivial things. I am not sure there is one answer that could solve this problem as there are so many variables that come into play. What I do know is that something must change, and I do believe nurses can play a large role in that change.
I have worked in public health for the last 20 years in an infectious disease clinic. I obviously love what I do spending most of my career doing it. I have always enjoyed the public health setting over private; I enjoy educating and helping where it is needed most. I have spent much of my career working with the underprivileged and underinsured population with special interest in the Latino population since I also speak Spanish. During this pandemic, we know this population has been the most negatively affected. I have not worked on the frontline in the trenches so to speak at the bedside. I believe I am now part of the frontline in the trenches of educating us out of this pandemic though. I have many friends and family who are part of the frontline and in the hospital setting and it is quite devastating. I feel for them and often feel guilty for not being on this frontline. What I have realized is there is another frontline that needs to be utilized.
For people who are far removed from the day-to-day devastation of this pandemic, which is most of the population, it is difficult to grasp the reality of it. This is no fault of their own, it's just not part of their everyday life. They are learning and hearing the information through social media, news, word of mouth and for some real-life personal stories of loss and reality. As most of us know in healthcare when we are not directly affected in our daily lives personally things don’t seem that bad.
In my clinic, I am fortunate to be able to ask during a one-on-one interview if they are interested in the vaccine while they are in the building. These patients are seeing me for an infectious disease need, but in our health department we can set the patient up to receive a vaccine once our visit is complete. It is very convenient; the vaccine staff will come and escort the patient to the vaccine area. When we first started this, I was just appalled at some of the information these clients were giving me as reasons why they were not interested or had not received the vaccine.
I could write pages and pages of the different, albeit some bizarre reasons I was told they were either not believers in Covid or in the vaccine. What I did realize though is that it is all about education. I have been able to provide information to clients and change or open their minds and they have received the vaccine while there. It is such a good feeling to be able to do this and really help them see correct and accurate information compared to what they thought when they came in. I also realized that a lot of times it was just basic navigation of how to make an appointment or how to start the process to obtain a vaccine.
We in healthcare are keenly aware of the multiple avenues available to receive a free Covid vaccine. I think we take it for granted that everyone else is aware of this also. Initially I thought, don’t these people watch the news, look at their phones and see how simple it is? The answer is a lot of them don’t see or don’t understand how to access it. Why are we not addressing that issue better? I don’t think we understand how intimidating it can be to access healthcare if this is not part of our daily lives. This population very often goes without preventative health care to begin with and use emergency rooms for primary care and non-urgent needs for the most part.
If I help one patient rethink their views on this pandemic or encourage them to vaccinate with a five-minute conversation, I am winning. My hope is that they will in turn bring that back to their friends and family and it will be a domino effect. I like to break down the information into what they will understand and that seems to really hit home. One example is the popular answer “I don’t know what is in the vaccine”. I have been able to change some minds with simple answers like asking are they aware of what is in the fast-food they picked up on the way to the clinic? Or how about the cigarettes you are smoking or the soda you are drinking? When bringing up some real-life examples it seems to put it in perspective. Could it be that simple? It just might be from what I have experienced.
In closing, the end of this pandemic has multiple variables to consider. I don’t want to consider myself frontline and take away from those truly in the trenches of this pandemic. I believe there is the other frontline as I like to call us, the ones that rely on prevention and education.
Public health in my opinion is where we can make a difference and in turn assist our fellow frontline bedside nurses on the back end. I believe human interaction and discussion and the ability for questions to be asked and clear answers in terms that are understood by the audience are key to ending this pandemic. This means utilizing an all-hands-on-deck, grassroots approach.