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A Nurse’s Courage

My family watched in horror as the events of the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded throughout the world. In particular in NYC, where we are witnessing nurses face this deadly virus with heroism, valor, and courage– words reserved for troops in a war zone. This virus has shown no mercy, and other than those who have contracted it, nursing professionals are directly engaged in battling it.

We anxiously waited for the virus to hit Portland like it did to NYC. My wife would go into work every shift wondering if that would be the day that her hospital would look more like the ones in New York. We are both nurses, though she is the one still practicing. I left bedside nursing a few years ago to co-found Nursegrid, a nurse technology company recently acquired by HealthStream.

She began getting assigned PUIs, which are “Patients Under Investigation” for the Coronavirus. Days later we’d find out that some of them tested positive. We couldn’t speak for our other nurse friends, but our household was steeped in fear and anxiety. Would she contract the virus? Would she share it with our 4-year old son? Would we be one of the young and healthy people to respond negatively, struggle to breath, and potentially die? Honestly, we were terrified.

It’s hard to know how nurses are truly feeling when the volume of praise can feel like it’s drowning out their own voices. This is why Nursegrid decided to survey our large network of nurses and hand the microphone back to them. What we found was that thousands of nurses across the nation were experiencing emotions similar to my family.

Nurses overwhelmingly responded that their primary concern was a fear that they’d contract or carry the virus home and infect their family. The frustration around lack of proper protective equipment is something we all feel outraged about, but our survey got to the root of this frustration: our healthcare system has placed nurses in a position where they are not only putting themselves at risk, but their families as well.

The immense courage we are witnessing from nurses right now feels extraordinary; however, it is not new to nursing. We didn’t suddenly become courageous the moment the Coronavirus pandemic hit. Nurses stare down infectious diseases all the time, albeit, with more than a homemade mask separating them from their patient. Our heroism, valor, and courage are not unique to pandemics, but a mettle tested daily by the nature of these emotionally charged situations. Nurses have become accustomed to this level of risk in hospitals, adopting techniques to lower physical risk to themselves. Regardless, it has become an unfortunate part of the job.

The results of this survey highlight the stresses our hospitals and nurses are under in the midst of a pandemic no one was prepared for. It demonstrates how our confidence is intertwined with that preparation and linked to our perception of work safety.

I’m not sure if nurses will ever again be the primary focus of our nation like they are now, but when the spotlight and pandemic have moved on, their work will not suddenly become less dangerous, stressful, or courageous. The intimate work nurses perform requires courage on a daily basis. Our praise of them must continue well beyond the heroic work we’re witnessing now. Better yet, let’s reduce the amount of courage they need by returning the empathy that they extend to us. Sometimes all it takes is listening to what they have to say.