Four breathing tubes inserted in three shifts.
Four people who are agonized; dozens of desperate screams asking for help; complaints of suffocation; feeling like they are breathing through a straw; giving up the fight early and suddenly; seeing their roommates die in front of their eyes; begging us to put them down and put them out of their misery—out of the slow death toll they feel is creeping up on them; suffocating; undergoing resuscitation; flatlining; letting go after the virus gets the best of them; feeling helpless and already gone. All they can do at this point is pray for a miracle. (I seriously wish I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.)
This is a glimpse of the suffering we, as health care workers—and patients—are going through on a daily basis.
Yesterday, I walked into a patient’s room and saw her sitting on a table, frustrated, and taking off her much-needed essential oxygen non-rebreather mask. I ended up explaining to her how essential her positive attitude was as part of her recovery (which was ironic, knowing that I’ve got none left in me after all the horrible sickness, stress, pressure, and death I’ve been seeing recently).
She was doing okay in terms of lab findings (even on imaging), but being alone, locked up in a room with her thoughts, made her feel anxious—it affected her outcome and being, and the negativity around her found a way to creep up on her mind.
We are daily surrounded by death and negativity, sickness and restlessness, weakness and agony, helplessness and inability…words that resonate to only those who are in similar situations. We are seeing colleagues getting infected on a daily basis, even when they did not let their guards down, due to the huge numbers and the high viral loads they were exposed to.
Covid, you are a devious, unexpected virus. Who you take and who you let escape your grip is unclear. You have no patterns, and we don’t know how determined you are when you want to break a family and make it lose what has forever held it together.
In a post I found online, health care workers were asked how working in the pandemic had affected them. Here are some of their answers:
Insomnia, intrusive thoughts, panic attacks, dreading going to work, hating their job, waking up short hyperventilating in the middle of the night, having a panic attack after putting the N95 mask and having to take it off for a second to breathe (a bit too relatable), nightmares, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anger and passive-aggressiveness, hypertension, overthinking, stress-eating, constant body and headaches, helplessness, loss of hair, chest tightness, acne, weight gain, the need for psychotherapy but not being able to manage due to exhaustion, burnout, and fear of death (also too relatable).
This list can go on and on. It definitely contains a lot of things that my close colleagues and I feel and experience daily. We are under an unbearable, insurmountable amount of pressure. We are expected not to fail, to handle everything this pandemic throws our way, and to deliver the best we have.
We are flooded with emotions that we cannot let out, and we are mentally and physically exhausted, but we get through—we get through for everyone who needs us and our focus; we get through to keep each other hanging and to lift each other up.
What makes everything even 10 times harder to handle is having to face the storms in Lebanon—a country where lives have already been taken away by hunger, corruption, protests, a major blast on the 4th of August, 2020, and lastly, this ongoing pandemic.
As for being a resident, nurse, fellow, clerk, support, and technician, working in this pandemic—in Lebanon specifically—I really encourage us to reach out, demand our minimal rights, a better pay, the simple bare necessities that have been taken away from us in a country where corruption runs deeper than this pandemic and steals every hope, every silver lining, every possibility to dream of the day this will be over, every ray of sunshine, every smile, every plan, and every future. We live in a country where corruption has taken away our smiles and will take us sooner than later away from everyone we love.
So to every frontliner out there, I know you are not okay.
I know you have had it.
I know you feel unappreciated.
I know that N95 has an imprint on your face.
I know it smells awful and too used.
I know PPE are like a hang rope.
I know you miss breathing normally.
I know you miss being next to your family, friends, and loved ones.
I want to tell you congratulations for being able to carry on with your mission. I pray you stay healthy and take care of yourself in these horrible days. Reach out to your friends who understand, vent about the effect of seeing death, staring at it and facing it, knowing from each other that we did our best, acknowledging we are underpaid and unappreciated first, and doing something about it next.
Let things out, write, listen to your favorite music, cry it out, watch some happy movies to escape reality for a little while.
The battle is far from over, and we still have a long way ahead of us.