I cannot confidently say I have many definitive answers regarding the virus known as COVID 19. What I can confidently answer is what we need and how we feel being on the frontlines day in and day out.
The public spouts outrage at those not practicing social distancing in the way they see fit. The media discusses and sensationalizes COVID 24/7, fueling mass hysteria of epic proportions. The CDC recommends hospital staff use bandanas when proper masks and attire run out. Administrators and CEOs are attempting to instill silence in healthcare workers about the dire working conditions, and search belongings when staff leaves work while remaining vigilant about their numbers and bottom lines rather than patient and staff safety.
Please don’t tell us that in the richest country in the world in the 21st century, we are supposed to work in a fictionalized disaster zone and fashion our own face masks out of cloth because other Americans hoard supplies for personal use, so-called leaders sit around in meetings hearing themselves talk and the richest people in the world choose denial and oblivion.
When we run to bedside to intubate a crashing, COVID patient and there are two respiratory therapists, two nurses and a doctor at the bedside, that is 5 N95s masks, 5 gowns, 5 face shields and 10 gloves for one patient at one time. Of course, we will run out. We are not equipped. Period.
Make no mistake, the CDC is loosening the guidelines because our country is not prepared for a pandemic. Loosening guidelines increases healthcare workers’ risk but the decision is done to allow us to keep working, allow the healthcare industry to keep churning. It is not to keep healthcare workers or others safe. It is not even done for the public benefit – it is so we can continue to work no matter the personal cost to us or our loved ones, displaying a false sense of calm to those that need it. Sending healthcare workers to the front line asking them to cover their face with a bandana is like sending a soldier to the front line in flip flops carrying a tennis ball.
I don’t want to talk, answer questions based on fear or curiosity, or give out a facade of assurance. We need action. We need boxes of N95s piling up, donated from the people who hoarded them, from the leaders of this nation, from those successful and rich enough not to have to fear they won’t have enough. We need non-clinical administrators in the hospital lining up in the ER asking if they can stock shelves to make sure that when we need to rush into a room, the drawer of PPE equipment isn’t empty. We want them showing up in the ER asking “how can I help” instead of offering shallow, disorganized and ever-changing “plans” conceived by someone who has spent far too long in an ivory tower and not long enough in the trenches. We want them to roll up their sleeves and join us in the trenches since as healthcare workers, we should all be united.
I don’t want your inquires about if my facilities have enough PPE, if it’s true we are re-using masks or if the masks leave bruises on my face. I need you demanding that billion-dollar companies like 3M halt all production of any product that isn’t PPE to focus on PPE manufacturing. Demanding that companies like Amazon, with its delivery mastery to halt its 24 hour delivery of hand sanitizer and toilet paper to whoever can pay the most in order to help get the available PPE supplies distributed fast and efficiently to healthcare workers who need them. Demanding that companies like Proctor and Gamble, and the makers of other soaps and detergents step up their manufacturing and distribution too. We need detergent to clean scrubs and gowns, disinfecting wipes over 60% alcohol to clean computer surfaces and equipment. What about plastics manufacturers? Plastic gowns aren’t a high-tech device, they are… plastic. Get on it. Face shields are also just clear plastic. No excuses.
I do not want you expressing concern or sending gratitude from six feet away. I want you to remember that money talks in this country and in the world. So demand that executives and millionaires focus more on how to support healthcare workers and less on their supply of Botox or silicone breast implants, less on their stocks and bitcoins, less on themselves. Tell them to put their money and their mouth to voicing the need for more respirators and ET tubes, more hospital beds, and test kits, more goggles and hairnets.
I want to see all that. Then we can all talk about how we played our part in this alleged fight. Netflix and chill are not enough while our family, friends, and colleagues are out there fighting. Staying at home, in the confines of your safe homes and filled with all your creature comforts, with the luxury of posting on social media, complaining about being bored, and bitching about what is not happening the way you think it should, is not enough while we give our blood, sweat, and tears to collect, treat, save and console others’ blood, sweat, and tears.
I want you to spread words of encouragement and hope to healthcare workers by all means at your disposal. And I need you to understand that we do not mean to be short, over-reactive, over-sensitive, distant, or annoyed. We are simply and utterly depleted after a 12-14 hour workday. I need you to know we do not love or appreciate you any less because we have nothing left to give at the moment. It is a calling. And we are built different, fearless. I know it is hard to love and care for a nurse. Do it anyway. So throw us a grain of salt, and know that this is deeply personal to each and every one of us. We do not need gratitude, we love what we do and we do it because we want to, because we have to. Be compassionate, kind and assist in any way you can. But leave judgment and negativity out of the dialogue and realize you need us. Do not be a bystander, a silent supporter, a quiet, thankful person. Do not turn us away as pariahs when we need love, shelter, food or rest.
I am tired. I am confused. I am concerned. I am sore. I see people die every day. But I have hope. I have stamina. I have purpose. I have what it takes. So let’s go!
Shout from the rooftops that this country won two world wars because the entire country mobilized. We out-produced and we out-manufactured while our soldiers out-fought the enemy. We need to do that again, all of us, because make no mistake, IF we are at war, healthcare workers are your soldiers, and the war is just beginning. I am ready for each battle. Are you?