The Amazing Human Heart
The heart is composed of four chambers; the left atria, the right atria, the left ventricle, and the right ventricle. Going across these four chambers, there are electrical signals the body sends to allow the heart to keep beating, thus keeping you alive. Thump. Thump. We have all felt our hearts beating. That beat is called a pulse. When you put your body under stress, let’s say you have a moment of excitement or fear, that pulse quickens. You feel that beat get faster and faster. When the moment passes and that sense of relief washes over your body, your pulse turns slow and steady. The heart is resilient. It adapts to many of the stressors we thrust upon it day to day. It never takes a break. Every day, all day, those four chambers do their job and keep the rest of the body going. There aren’t many things out there that are quite as remarkable as the human heart, but I can think of one that comes pretty close; a nurse.
Nurses on the Frontline
I am a nurse on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. I normally work as a cardiac nurse but since the start of this outbreak, I have been forced to wear every hat that exists in the healthcare closet. I have been moved around from floor to floor, treating patients outside my realm of expertise. Most recently I have been redeployed to the “special pathogens unit” or in other words, the COVID ICU. I come into work, never knowing where I will be, who I will be working with, or what the shift will bring.
Adaptability in the COVID War Zone
So here I am, adapting as I go to whatever path is laid out before me. I make up my role as I go, all the while trying to assist the other nurses, respiratory therapists, and doctors. At any given time there are over 30 medical professionals running around a floor that normally has 7 people staffing it. And yet, it never seems like enough.
We are all trying our best as the hospital is flooded with critically ill COVID patients. There is equipment everywhere. The halls are littered in brown paper bags and week old n95 masks. The air is filled with what I came to realize is uncertainty. Everyone is in their own little bubble focusing only on the tasks in front of them. You are surrounded by people, and yet still feel utterly alone. The steady supply of support that nursing relies on is cut off, both physically and emotionally. Each person has enough to worry about with their own patients, much less someone else's.
If you have a free moment to survey the scene, it mimics a war zone; defeated warriors fighting an uphill battle. One nurse is rapidly donning their PPE to go assist with intubating a patient whose lungs finally gave out while another is signaling through a glass door that she needs more iv medications to keep another patient’s blood pressure at a level that is compatible with life. Doctor’s are screaming directions through an intercom system at a nurse trying to save someone who went into a lethal arrhythmia. A small crowd gathers outside that door, but most are unable to enter to assist because it is unsafe.
Down the hall another nurse is preparing to transfer a patient (who has been there for weeks) to a step down unit, where they will hopefully be discharged home from. That bed will be filled again within a few hours. Around the corner is a nurse trying to keep it together while her patient slips away. She holds up an iPad so the family can be with them during their final moments. She watches, she mourns with them, she holds her patient’s hand and strokes their head because nobody else can, and the chaos around her continues to build as everyone tries to save those that remain.
The burden is heavy. The strain is unimaginable. There is excitement, there is fear, there is sadness. There is chaos. The pulse builds in the world of nursing as we work harder, faster, and longer than ever before. The demand rises and the heart of the healthcare world is aching for release.
The heart is resilient. It adapts to most of the changes we throw it’s way. But like with anything else, it has it’s breaking point. When the heart is overworked, it eventually gives out. It cannot keep up with increased demand forever, especially without assistance. It needs medications and devices to help it maintain the right rate and rhythm. It needs stents to open up the vessels that supply it with blood so it can continue doing it’s job. In other words, it needs support. Those four chambers are made up of muscle. They are simply body tissue. They work and they work and they work, but like any muscle they tire out. You can send all the electrical stimulus you want through them, but they won’t continue to work once they are damaged. If support comes too little or too late, the heart stops.
Nurses - Heart of the Pandemic
Nursing composes the heart of this pandemic. I am telling you, we are under immense strain. So answer me this, when does the relief come? Because with no heart, we cease to exist.