Normally, when you go through something traumatic with a group of people, there will be a very specific human response. The people who went through this thing will get together in some sort of social setting, and the act of doing so will begin to heal them. This will happen even if the trauma itself is not directly discussed.
But for all of the frontline responders to the COVID crisis in NYC, this can’t happen. There will be no social healing because humans can no longer socialize. Speaking for myself, this can leave one feeling unmoored, as if you’re just floating around in the ocean aimlessly. How does one process taking a hands on role in all this death, grief and tragedy?
Even tele-therapy seems unsettlingly remote. I guess it’s better than nothing, but for me, it doesn’t seem to really work. I end up feeling even more disconnected from humanity. Perhaps the single defining quality of being human is our desire for social connection, yet the virus has taken that away.
I took an active role in a mass casualty event and it’s impossible to talk to anyone about it. Because I’m older and have lived through a lot, I know myself well enough to know that I’ll get through this. Apparently I was born resilient.
I am, however, also vulnerable in the adaptive phase, which can last years. But I know I’m somewhat unusual in my adaptability, which makes me wonder how others less resilient are going to deal with this.
And to be clear – at this early juncture, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’m struggling too.
It’ll take my brain quite a while to process this new reality. What did it mean to have so many patients die in a shift that there was no more room in the morgue? So many you stopped counting? I would just throw sheets over dead bodies and move them wherever I could, freeing up a room for the next one to die. To have discussions with the docs about which of my patients had the best chance of surviving if they got the last ICU bed? To see all these people die alone because family members weren’t allowed in? To see doctors struggle to understand how to treat a disease that had never been seen before? To know that I was vulnerable to the same virus that was killing all these people? To have my medical director, a brilliant, strong woman with no history of mental illness commit suicide at the height of the crisis? To see the faces of my loved ones on the dead bodies? To know that the only end to all this misery is a vaccine that is years away? To see the complete and utter inability of our government to manage this crisis? To see my highly rated hospital collapse under the strain of dealing with a pandemic no one had prepared for? To run out of basic supplies? To run out of protective gear for the frontline workers – including docs and nurses? To see your colleagues succumb one by one to this virus? To wear so much PPE that it’s impossible to recognize your coworkers, much less make human connections with patients?
That’s a lot of shit to process.
It’s impossible to comprehend, but somehow I made it through this without getting sick from the virus.
I always loved my job as an inner-city ER nurse, and I’m pretty sure I still do. But I’m shaken to the core, so I’m a little fuzzy on what exactly I’m sure of.
But I know I’m sure of this: I’m grateful to be alive and be loved, to have a job when so many others are without work and hurting.
I’m slowly working the rest out.