It was the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when last I posted. To summarize where I have been over the last year feels impossible. I have not quite come out of the Pandemic Funk. Actually, I’m not sure I know anyone who has. People may say it has been quite the roller coaster ride; to me, it has been more like traveling through the Swamp of Sadness in the Never-ending Story. In order to get through it, “you must not let the sadness overtake you.”

I’m not winning…

At work, we went from stopping elective surgeries in April 2020, to having a committee decide which surgeries we could do, to finally opening it up to business as usual by June 2020. We started vaccinating staff in late December 2020, which I was part of the lucky first group of staff to get a shot. The vaccine clinic was happier than the happiest place in the world, Disney World, everyone said. Masks have been required in the hospital since the start of the pandemic. Only recently has my institution changed its policy, now requiring surgical masks onsite instead of cloth ones. Thank you, Delta variant…

Last year I thought that the OR staff would be redeployed to other areas of the hospital. It never happened. As it turns out, we have a very particular set of skills (think Liam Neeson, but opposite): saving people via Trauma Surgery. I never thought about this before, but it is true. As challenging as it is for med-surg nurses or other unit nurses to go to the ICU, they would be able to handle that. Going from floor to surgery? BAD IDEA. Covering trauma surgery? WORSE IDEA! Our OR staff can set up in 4 minutes or less to take care of a trauma patient. The upper leadership concluded that it would be wise to keep those of us with these crazy but necessary skills out of COVID units, so that someone can take care of victims of gun violence and other traumas.

Gun violence in Chicago… Sigh. That is one thing that did NOT stop during this pandemic. And it seems like it is getting worse. Honestly, I thought it was just me who thought this. Today I asked my OR crew of friends and everyone agreed: things are getting scarier in Chicago. We don’t need to look at the stats… You can actually see how many patients with gunshot wounds are rushed up to surgery. Who knows what the city’s Powers That Be will do, IF they do anything, about this violence. All I know is, my desire to leave the city that I love is growing each day. The shootings, the taxes, the traffic, the cost of living, The Cubs; this city hasn’t been the same for me for a long time.

This is all too much…

I feel like I have been in a constant state of mourning since the beginning of the pandemic. So much has been taken away from me….from all of us.

Sadly, days after my last post (March 24, 2020), I lost my Auntie C. (my mom’s sis-in-law) to COVID. She was an ICU nurse for over 33 years in Florida. Auntie C was taking care of patients infected with the virus until she couldn’t anymore. By the time her COVID test results came in, she was already at death’s door, unable to breath. COVID-19 was so new, so many unknowns, that doctors were unsure of interventions. She died on March 27, 2020. Auntie C’s funeral was live streamed via Facebook. I watched on my laptop while Facetiming one of my cousins who could not see it via her computer at work. No one in my family could go down there and stand beside my uncle as he laid her to rest. It was so surreal and made an already tragic moment worse for my family.

I watched as other family friends went through the same thing. They lost loved ones to COVID and were not able to properly lay them to rest.

My personal list of losses, other than my Aunt, have accumulated. I realize they may not be terrible in the grand scheme of life; however, if added up, weighs heavy on me mentally and emotionally.

I am mourning what I once knew…

My family has changed. Over the last four years, the family dynamic became uncomfortable, even hostile, because of political views, Democrat/Independent versus Republican. In comes the COVID-19 pandemic and then it became Science versus Nonsense/Politics. My family has never been so divided… I mourn the loss of joyful family gatherings focused on food, music, dancing, laughter. I am sad that I have to step on eggshells and think carefully of how I phrase things when speaking to certain family members for fear of triggering an argument about truths and non-truths, leading to anger, frustration, and hurt feelings. When a conversation starts going down that path, I try to pump the breaks before it ends up in a family feud.

Will my family ever recover and go back to the way it used to be?

Recently, I moved from one home to another. It is a big change, exciting in many ways, but very stressful. My partner of four years, aka The Bear, believes that the move triggered ALL the feelings I have swept under the carpet. I have been more irritable, moody, negative, and impatient. That isn’t my baseline emotional state and it is scary.

When I feel like my world is out control, I tighten up the reigns on whatever is mine: my things, my time, my compassion. I can’t share. I close up shop. Knock, knock. No one is home. This doesn’t bode well for all my relationships, especially the one with the love of my life.

Things finally came to a head the other day. The Bear had a “Come to Jesus” talk with me. He was brutally honest. But he was right. I knew he was right. I have been sinking in The Swamp of Sadness and have not been myself lately.

Tears, tears, tears. Then more tears.

I decided and he agreed: tomorrow is a new day with a new mission — Saving Myself.

Nurses, like many healthcare workers, are not good at taking care of themselves. We advise our patients on better health but completely ignore our well-being. Now, more than ever, we need to stay healthy – mentally, physically, emotionally. This pandemic is far from over.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”

No more sinking… I promise.

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