There is something mystical that happens, sometimes, in the middle of a busy shift in a moment of connection. Placing my stethoscope on her chest with one hand while the other hand sits reassuringly on her shoulder, feeling the beat of her heart and the rush of her breath in my ears. She’s old, frail, hard of hearing and sweet. Wearing a chain of gold on her neck, gilded like a queen, she sparkles quietly in the white sheeted hospital bed. Somehow, through my PPE and my walls she pulls emotion from me – not knowing, she can’t sense the relief I feel. Relief, that I can still connect, still find meaning in the smallest of examination details in the emerg. Through it all, through the Covid pandemic and my own shortness of breath, I find peace. For a moment.
I start my shift in the locker room, as I always do, saying hello and goodbye to the nurses coming and going, fresh and stressed, eyes sparkling or hooded. Tonight one sits quietly on the bench holding the small of her back, tired, defeated, she gets up to leave me space as I beg her to stay. Next, I look up at a colleague with sad eyes, as we ask each other, “how are you?”. Masked, I can’t see the up or downturn of her mouth, but she says “so so” with a gesture of her hand and turns away. Stopping, I think how to ask, should I ask, and the locker room empty save for us I gather strength to say “what’s wrong?”. Suddenly the tears burst into her eyes and I can see the relief; she opens the gates and tells me. Somehow, through my difficulty breathing and with my hoarse poorly perceptible voice I give and take with her until she feels supported, heard and with a plan. Thanking me she leaves, to meet me shortly in our unit, both of us soon to be masked and shielded against what’s to come. Pulling my walls up tight again I take my deep calming strained breaths and remind myself, through a haze of my own tears, that this is what I come to work for. To help those in need, to heal, to offer any strength I can at any moment that I can.
Caring for the wellbeing of my colleagues is just as important, now, as the care of our patients. Without imparting strength to each other, and holding our friends up when they are weak, we can’t continue to face the tsunami of pain each shift. So, breathless, we give to each other when we can hardly give to ourselves, and find peace, even just for a moment.