All I can do is reassure them they’re in really good hands…
I'm Nina Solis, and I am a hematology, oncology and COVID-19 nurse working at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
For me, one of the most frustrating parts of being a COVID nurse was that feeling nobody cares. It was like the world around me doesn't recognize the work I'm doing. It doesn't care and they don't care enough. Opening my eyes to a lot of that was really hard. A lot of people close to me didn’t understand, or didn't take it seriously based on like the tragedy we were seeing every day. And even to some extent now. It's still happening and a lot of us are experiencing this rebound effect. We held this together for so long over the past year and a half and feeling really exhausted.
Originally, a lot of people like myself who were young and living alone, and low risk, volunteered to be the first ones over on the COVID floor. It almost felt like I was being drafted.
I think I had fear for a lot of reasons. One was fear for my patients, because a lot of them were doing so poorly with their health. Sometimes people would look at me and ask me if they were going to die. It was so hard to know, what to say or what to do.
When someone's looking to you for an answer about something so deep as “Am I going to die? Am I going to make it?” All I can really do is reassure them that they're in really good hands here and that they're cared for. But if they are likely going to die, it's really a difficult conversation to have with them. I think the only thing you really can do is let them know they're not alone. It’s hard not to take that on, hard not to come home and think about that and sit with that.
A lot of my coworkers came together and talked a lot about our feelings of moral distress. We feel very morally distressed that we can't care for the patients as we normally would, that we're risking our own lives in a way.
I spent so many years before this as well in a very emotionally exhausting field. As an oncology nurse, even before the pandemic, we live so many lives within our job. We deal with so much tragedy that most people our age have never experienced, never will.
When I think about “what do I do with all this sorrow? What do I do with all of this heaviness that I feel?” One of my best friends and I were remarking that for all of the deep sorrow and sadness that we felt, we consequently feel joy more vibrantly.
I took up running during the pandemic, because I needed a solo activity. I would even run and just take like, the biggest deep breaths and feel so grateful. And think of all the people who I cared for, who couldn't, couldn’t even do that, couldn't even take a deep breath, they couldn't walk, they couldn't stand or run or be. It felt very free. It's moments like that I really acknowledge my freedom and my health.
One of our chaplains would come up sometimes and do breathing exercises and meditations with us, that really helped. I think we have an amazing team on my floor as well. We had great leadership and great management that really kept this going.
The social worker who was on our floor, worked with me directly to create what we call story sharing sessions. I came to her with the idea because a lot of our staff members were just so visibly burnt out and were admitting to feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Having a lot of compassion fatigue.
There’s a quote by James Baldwin that says something like, “We think all of our sadness and despair is the deepest that anyone’s ever felt, and then we read and then we realize we’re not alone in that.”
Having people in the same room who understand you and know what you’re going through, listen to you and really hear you has been really healing for a lot of people.
I have this tattoo on my arm that says, “Be soft.” And it's from this poem. Basically, reminding you not to let the world make you jaded, and to be reminded that there's beauty and goodness when you're surrounded by so much difficulty and so much pain. I remember I was in a COVID room once. The patient had urinated all over the floor and everything was wet. Someone was yelling into the room. The isolation gown I had, I didn’t realize had ripped and fell off of me while I was standing in the middle of the room. I saw my tattoo. And I was like, “No, I’m going to be jaded now. There’s no way I’m going to be soft after this. I'm gonna be hard.”
It’s difficult to bounce back from that feeling of feeling hopeless. But I think I also felt exhausted to from, the moral distress feeling like I’m not able to give the care I want to give. I am seeing so much tragedy and so much, death watching people say goodbye to their loved ones on an iPad.
I'm only 25. I've seen so much pain and so much suffering, but I've also seen so much joy and so much meaning. So few people my age could witness something or be a part of something so profound.
The Penn Medicine Listening Lab is a storytelling initiative that embraces the power of listening as a form of care. While the stories featured here aspire to uplift and empower, they may also describe experiences of trauma and suffering. We recognize that listening can be a vulnerable experience and offer resources at Penn Medicine and beyond through our website for those in need of support.
Tags: Compassionate Relationships