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Thank You For Your Service

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2 Articles; 303 Profile Views; 3 Posts

Is love and support ever wasted?

An opinion about the recent trend of comparing health care workers to military soldiers.

Thank You For Your Service
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Apples to oranges situation

Social media is filled with well-meaning tributes, comparing nurses to soldiers fighting in a war. In my opinion, we’re definitely in an apples to oranges situation. My expertise having been cultivated from watching “Band of Brothers”, I have some opinions on whether I’d make a good soldier in an actual war, and that would be a hard no. I don’t think I’d ever have the courage to run into gunfire, a burning building, or jump out of a plane. I’ve seen the images of soldiers screaming and writhing in pain while awaiting death, and don’t think I could function knowing the same fate may await me.

I’m not saying there’s no fear, but the threat I'm facing doesn't feel as imminent or great. Yes, we’re very likely to be infected, but then again, so is half the population. I keep telling myself the odds of surviving are very good. Yes, I’ve seen that healthcare workers tend to be sicker, and yes, I’ve seen the 51, 37, and even healthy 25-year-olds who have succumbed to this illness. I comfort myself with the knowledge that the numbers are in my favor, and if it is my time, I’d rather be sedated on a ventilator than dismembered and bleeding out in the cold.

On a day to day basis, I am the antithesis of the brave soldier, head held high, marching proudly. The Covid epidemic has turned me into the most neurotic germaphobe hypochondriac. As a peri-menopausal woman with seasonal allergies, every hot flash, sneeze and sore throat has me channeling Fred Sanford: This is it, this is the big one!

Here’s the other part of being in the oranges

As difficult as war is on the soldiers, they never had to worry about it killing the rest of their family. They didn’t risk coming home from battle with an active grenade in their pocket, wondering when it will go off. I can’t count the number of times this week I’ve told my daughter she was sitting too close to me. I’ve told my elderly mother to stay six feet apart, as if it is possible living in the same house.

Although I’ve been able to muster the courage to face getting a possibly fatal illness ...

How do you live with the guilt of knowing you may be bringing it home to your loved ones?

What if I’m not the 3% but it’s my mother?

My husband?

My kids?

What if I get them sick after I have symptoms and I can’t take care of them?

(We talked about sending everyone else away, or myself away). The problem with that is, with no test, how do I know we’re all not already infected?

Anguish, guilt, and the maybes

The mental anguish of this illness is more than the illness itself. Having a 2 week incubation period with no possibility of testing is like trying to contain an enemy that may already be in the house. It’s difficult enough mentally to know you and your family may be waiting for a ticking time bomb to go off. It’s anguish to know that time bomb is you.

I tell my patients, guilt is actually functional. It’s the psyche’s way of convincing you that you have more control than you actually do. I often care for women who have had miscarriages, and I give the same speech: “You did nothing to cause this, and you couldn’t have prevented it”. And yet, during my two miscarriages, I would go home and think, maybe if I ate more carefully, maybe if I had lost weight before, maybe, maybe, maybe… Guilt may be functional, yet can be agony to live with. In terms of the lack of PPE in hospitals, I would argue that it's about more than protecting ourselves. If I infect my family, my co-workers, or another patient, I’m going to spend agonizing hours thinking should I have washed my hands one more time? Maybe if the hospital had given me more than one mask for the day? Maybe if everyone was tested so we knew to isolate asymptomatic patients? Maybe, maybe, maybe…

Heroic service

Everyone, keep posting your support of nurses. We are heroes, as are the teachers scrambling to continue teaching our kids from home, the grocery workers continuing to stock the shelves, the pizza guy providing meals to free lunch kids. We all have different challenges, and different roles to play. Comparisons to other heroes may not be entirely accurate, but love and support are never wasted.

Linda Rice, CNM is a Nurse-midwife at Boston Medical Center and Atrius Health. www.midwifelindarice.com

2 Articles; 303 Profile Views; 3 Posts

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1,883 Posts; 18,910 Profile Views

Thanks for this article. I am also not all that keen on the comparison. I am not a hero for doing my job. An accountant running into a burning building and pulling somebody out is a hero.

When people use this analogy, they need to know that, unlike soldiers, many of us will be left to fend for ourselves if we are injured in this war. Many hospitals are treating Covid Positive employees the same as with any non work related illness. So, if you have banked PTO, feel free to use it. If not, some hospitals will give you an interest free PTO loan and allow you to work it off.

War heroes aren't treated like that.

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