Last month, my hospital finally returned to “normal operations” after more than two years of modified operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a registered nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, I was ecstatic to hear the news. We can now work our twelve-hour shifts without masks, and there are no longer strict visitation restrictions on our babies’ family members (these were only two of the changes associated with the return of “normal operations”).
The toll of the last two years has hit us, nurses, extremely hard.
The lasting effects in the healthcare field have been catastrophic. The number of registered nurses in the workforce is at an all-time low. As a result, staffing ratios (the number of patients assigned to one nurse per shift) are at an all-time high — creating markedly increased demands on an already overworked and underpaid workforce. The ratios I have seen in the NICU alone have been downright unsafe on many occasions (this is no secret to the rest of the world).
My coworkers and I have suffered many a long, exhausting, and utterly defeating shifts. As a result, nurses are leaving the workforce in droves.
And to be honest, the physical exhaustion we feel doesn’t even come close to the mental and emotional exhaustion that has negatively impacted our lives. Caring for these sick patients day in and day out causes immense emotional strain. Some of them never return home and die a miserable death without their family members present.
It often leaves us with a lasting depression that’s difficult to shake.
Calculating medication doses in order to double-check the pharmacist . . . creating a nursing care plan for each of our numerous patients . . . using our nursing judgment and critical thinking to decide which tasks to prioritize and what actions to take next — all of this, on top of the staffing strain, wears us out mentally and leaves us in an overwhelming brain fog.
And Our Families?
Our families have suffered too during this pandemic . . . more so than anyone imagined they would. Our presence at home is less, as we are picking up overtime shifts (sometimes mandatory) at the hospital. And even when we are home, we’re so incredibly worn out that all any of us want on our days off is to sleep and recuperate before heading back in for more.
On the off chance that we actually attend the PTO meeting at the kids’ school or sit in the audience at our child’s winter dance recital, we aren’t really there. The mind wanders . . . we think about work and what lies ahead on our next shift . . . or we’re just completely zoned out, unable to give these events complete attention because of our inner stress and sheer exhaustion.
For many of us, our relationships with spouses are distant and suffering, including intimacy. Date night is nonexistent. We are just too tired to put effort into our own hair and makeup and to wear a new dress to go out. We’re even too worn out to have a date night at home. And forget having a meaningful conversation laying in bed at night. The only topic of conversation these days is what is at the forefront of our minds — the stress of work and how we just can’t sustain this for the rest of our lives.
I haven’t even mentioned many other ways the pandemic has affected us nurses . . .
- “Maskne” (acne as a result of wearing masks nonstop)
- Frustrations regarding the lack of supplies available to do our job (due to COVID’s impacts on the supply chain)
- A dramatic increase in mental illness, such as depression and anxiety — and their debilitating episodes
- A completely defeated state of burnout, as we have fallen out of love with what used to be our dream job
This 2022 Nurses’ Week, recognized during the second week of May, should be filled to the brim with the utmost celebration of nurses and all the sacrifices made as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because nursing alone is hard.
Throw a global pandemic in there — complete with the sickest patients we have ever seen, the lack of staff to care for these patients, and a million other pandemic-initiated complications — and being a nurse in our current world is nearly impossible.
However, WE. STILL. DO IT.
We still drag ourselves, broken and exhausted, out of bed each morning and evening to go in for our long, arduous shifts. We still try our best to give 110% each and every day to provide the best care we possibly can for each of the patients that truly need us. Because that’s our personality. That’s us as nurses. We are caring and compassionate and we put everyone else before ourselves — always and forever.
I see you, Nurse.
I am one of you. I trudge through the trenches with you each and every day. And here I am to remind you that everything you are doing matters.
Your work is meaningful.
Your work is valued.
You, Nurse, are an amazing human being. Keep on keeping on, and always remember that you truly are making a difference in someone’s life. Even in the stormy squall of this pandemic.