In the Thick of It

It isn’t uncommon that my mom friends try to mother me during this time. They check in. They ask how my shift went. They ask when I work next. They ask when I get a break. They ask if they can feed my family. Or bring me a glass of wine. They ask if they can pick up my kids or bring them home from dance or hockey or baseball. If it wasn’t for this community of mothering moms around me, I would have fallen hard with no soft landing of hot soup on my porch, home-baked cookies, bottles of wine with chocolate, or simply the love and support they infuse me with through text messages and funny memes. I need it so much. I am deeply thankful and know I am incredibly fortunate to have this community that lifts me up and keeps me upright.

The question I get asked so much right now is, “How are you doing?” I truly don’t know how to answer that. Saying “okay or good or great” seems to not honor what life is like right now. Saying okay or good or great gives no part of what me and my colleagues and my team are doing justice. There are highs and there are lows and what COVID-19 has done to our nation and our world should not be responded to dismissively. What it has done to communities and families needs to be respected. “Doing okay” has no place in describing what we are doing right now. 

Every day I go to work where there is a mountain of emotions among our patients and their families. There is sadness. There is loneliness. There is desperation. There is fear. There is anxiety. It breathes the air we breathe and it occupies more space than it has since that very first day I stepped foot in an Emergency Department over a decade ago.

So many days, our hospitals are at capacity. They are overwhelmed. The shadows of dark feelings grow and expand and shift to fill every inch it can occupy. Gray turns to black as anger creeps in. Anger that there is so much waiting. That there are no beds. That there are hospital transfers. Anger that there is unknown as we wait for hospital rooms and Emergency Department beds to open up.

On the ground, my staff works tirelessly. Endlessly. They push down those overwhelmed feelings. They absorb the anger of patients and their families. They sit at their patients’ bedsides and diffuse their anxiety. They help their patients make those dark feelings as small as they know how.

The Emergency Department team works methodically. Problem solving and finding a way with every challenge. We navigate within our own natural rhythm amidst the chaos of our every day. This is our routine, and no one can handle it better than we can.

But it isn’t easy, and by the end of the day, we have used everything we have. The physical exhaustion is nothing compared to the emotional and mental exhaustion. The thick skin and problem solving minds that we have confronted each miniscule and monumental uphill challenge with doesn’t come without a price. But it is a price we willingly pay today, tomorrow, yesterday, because we wholeheartedly believe in the value of what we do.  

The Emergency Department staff. They are a force. A force you want taking care of you when you are struggling with COVID-19. When you have a heart attack. When you are in a car accident. When you break your arm. When you have appendicitis. When you are having a miscarriage. When your toddler cuts his lip. When your grandmother has a stroke. When you have an infection in your bones. When you are feeling suicidal. When you overdose. When you have an unbearable headache. When your loved one needs to be on hospice. When you can no longer take care of your elderly family member at home. When your infant wakes up in the middle of the night and is gasping to breathe. When you have intractable vomiting and diarrhea and are feeling weak. When your are in heart failure. When you are trying to escape domestic abuse. When you have a dog bite. 

And this is a small sampling of one day in the Emergency Department. 

We are feeling the stress of COVID-19. We are overwhelmed but I assure you, we are stronger than most. As patient numbers rise and hospital capacity reaches its limits, we are still here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, doing everything we can. We are taking care of patients affected by the pandemic and those that are being seen for all the illnesses we normally treat. We are being stretched to the greatest of our abilities, and our abilities are great. We are in the thick of it. 

To my community that has been blanketing me for the past 10 plus months with so much love and support, my heart is so full of gratitude for you. To my colleagues and Emergency Department family for being undoubtedly amazing every day without fail, it goes without saying, I could not do any of this without you.

I suppose when you ask me how I am doing, I think I speak for all of us when I say, “We are in the thick of it.” We willingly and feel thankful that we can be here for you, your family, and our community, but know that it is not easy. We are rising to the challenge, and we will continue to work tirelessly to do our best.