:::Edit: my husband says his shoulders were slumped because he was heading in to night shift more than the dread of what would await him. It’s when he comes home that his shoulders slump from what the shift was like. I thought I should clarify that. He isn’t discouraged to the point of quitting. But he is tired. :::
Tonight my husband went to work, a work he loves, but I saw the slump in his shoulders that indicated his dread for what he would find when he gets to the intensive care unit. All this summer we kept hoping that this new variant would pass over us and our area would be spared, but things are as bad as they were in the thick of the pandemic last year.
When he got back after four long shifts last week, I could tell he was wrung out, physically and emotionally. I asked him how it is going. He is the one who thrives on the adrenaline of life-saving medicine, who enjoys the challenges of critically ill patients, and who has trained tirelessly for his work. “It is awful,” he said. “This week has totally whooped my butt. There is no time to eat, and hardly time to run to the bathroom. Today there were twenty-seven people stacked in the ER, waiting for beds. One woman waited for three days in another ER before being transported to the small-town hospital. And the patients in the ICU are younger, and they are falling apart for no obvious reason, with no other health issues at all.”
Gabe doesn’t talk much about his work, and up until recently he has remained charitable about the spreading of fear and misinformation online. For a while it seemed that mainstream media was whipping the subject into a frenzy, trying to get more mileage out of a very tired idea. The disagreements even seemed a little funny. I showed him a meme that said, “This Awful Vaccine is doing more harm than Covid ever did,” and he chuckled wryly at the obvious fact that there are not 630,000 vaccine deaths, nor are there any hospitals filling up with patients who have reactions, although of course, there are reactions. There always are reactions, just not nearly on the same scale as the disease. “It’s just how they see it,” he would say. “People should have a right to choose what they want to put into their bodies. It’s a basic tenet of medicine.”
The charity runs a little thin when the screaming from the sidelines gets louder. A lot of the people who need acute care are the same ones who have been booing the medical system for this entire long year. Right now the system is overwhelmed. There are not enough resources for the needs. Obviously this results in lapses in care, oversights, people falling through the cracks. It isn’t just the Covid patients; it’s the ruptured appendix and the stroke victims and the heart attacks too. Staff at hospitals are running, running, all day long. Normal care in an Intensive Care Unit is only two patients per nurse. When that number goes up to double the normal care load, things start to feel out of control quickly for their caregivers. Very, very few people come back to say thank-you, and unfortunately the ones in Gabe’s unit… they often die.
They die, despite the careful monitoring, the endless duties that are involved with total care, ensuring the patient is sedated enough that they will not pull out their lines, but not so sedated that they can’t wake up, the washing, the care for bedsores, checking kidney function, making sure their eyes don’t dry out, etc. etc. They die on the shifts of those nurses who saw the fear in their eyes because their worn-out lungs couldn’t maintain oxygen levels. And guess who has to remove the tubes and pull the plugs when that decision has been made that they will not be able to recover? Yes. It’s the ones who have been laboring day and night to help this patient pull through, who have been on the phone communicating with distraught family members, hoping against hope that this one makes a turn for the better. There are thousands and thousands of these stories of bereavement and loss falling through the cracks. Not the famous or important people, or the influencers, but the everyday hard-working ones whose families are devastated by their loss.
“After every shift, we think about what we missed, how we could have given better care, what went wrong,” he said quietly. “This is what haunts us. The worst is when someone who has no clue what it is like is sure that they could fix everything with the help of a few internet memes and some youtube research. As if they obviously know better than all the doctors and researchers who have spent their entire lives studying the human body, and they are baffled by this inscrutable virus. That is just enough to make me angry!” Friends, my husband has never been this frustrated with humanity in general. And he is only one of many nurses who are near breaking point from the tensions. “People tell me if I can’t handle the pressure, I should just quit and get another job,” he said, “but how would that help the situation?”
My heart is sore for these healthcare workers, and for the mistrust and confusion everywhere in our world. They aren’t asking to be lauded as heroes, but they would really appreciate being heard and respected for their sincere efforts to alleviate suffering and help people heal. And honestly, they would like if everybody at least considered the vaccine with an open mind, and if they decide to not get it, to at the very least do everything in their power to not spread the virus and it’s accompanying sensations.
Here’s a quote from an article that I feel articulates very kindly about how many doctors are feeling. “Many of the unvaccinated people I’ve talked with are hard-working, loving individuals struggling to catch a break in a life that hasn’t been fair. They’re unmoored and don’t know what to believe when truth itself has supply-chain problems and the health care system has been letting them down for years.”
I get it with the disillusionment that is felt for our healthcare system. I don’t really trust that the system has only my good in mind either. I don’t think science is a god that can save us. I do believe in respecting the gifts that our Creator has given men in developing their knowledge and honing skills to improve the lives of so many. If I end up getting Covid, I would do everything I could to try to heal at home. But if I need care beyond that, I will have to trust that the doctors care about my health and will do their best for me.
I also strongly believe that things like vaccinations should remain open to free choice, but I do not understand why that has to include reposting fear-mongering stories of dubious origin or news articles that are so heavy with agenda you can see the slant a mile off. And that goes for both sides of the debate! Why can we not ask God how to make our private decisions, and go on our way in faith? Why do we have to yell about it?
“We all have our own echo chambers, where what we already believe swirls around and that is what we hear,” my husband said. I had told him of feeling scalded by an online debate so nasty that if the people would have been Vikings, they would have been pulling hair and gouging out eyes.
I want to say, “We are better than this!” But the truth is, we are not. I know that I can come up with sarcastic zingers with the best of them, but I have asked Jesus to slap my hand before I write them in a comment thread. I am not joking one little bit. I like to be affirmed, that I am right, as does everybody else I know. Can we please just listen to each other’s hearts without vitriol? Please? Can we say, “I may be wrong, but this is the way I see it…” If the only debate we listen to is the narrative that echoes what is already swirling in our heads, we become more and more self-assured and more and more abrasive in our own defense.
I think about my friend Jeanie, whose dad passed away last year, and how clearly she saw it at his deathbed, “Love God; love people. That’s all that matters.” Hmm. Didn’t Jesus say something like that?
I cringe at all the suffering. I loathe Covid. I hate the divisions and strife. Maybe that is our real test, not so much the physical sickness. Maybe our real test is what we do despite the stresses in our very ordinary life, with our neighbors and the people in our house, and at the store or the post office or the mechanics shop. Maybe we are still being called to a very simple rule: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.
Last week after reading that nasty comment thread I talked about, I felt sick in my soul, and I went out to my garden. I picked a half dozen ears of corn and walked over to my elderly neighbors to chat. I found out he can’t eat corn because he doesn’t have teeth, but he would be very happy for some tomatoes. He said he fell out of a tree this summer when he was trimming a branch, and had to have surgery on his shoulder. I said I would give him our phone numbers so that he can call the next time he needs to have a branch trimmed. Then I gave the corn to the other neighbor whom I hadn’t met yet. She was nice, but shy, and she said she has lived there nine years and still doesn’t know anybody. And then Dianne walked across the road to say hi, and we had introductions all around. It was a healing transaction for me; I no longer felt besmirched by the state of humanity. This. Right here. Actual people and a few ears of corn.
I want that simplicity of loving kindness. Please tell me, how do you keep the hubbub from destroying your peace? How do you keep your equilibrium?