By Laura Dreissigacker Hooker, RN
We all know the buzzwords from the last year-plus. COVID-19, coronavirus, masks, social distancing, quarantine, remote learning, homeschooling, and the list goes on. I never, ever imagined using most of these words in my everyday life. Yet, here we are, with these being part of our everyday vocabulary.
I remember waking up during the few weeks after the first person in our small community tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. I was isolating with my identical twin sister Julia in my basement. We are both RNs on a surgical unit at a small hospital in northern New York, where we cut our teeth as new nurses fresh out of the nursing program at Clinton Community College. We have remained there for the past 19 years. We didn't want to expose our families to COVID-19 if we contracted it at work, so we chose to self-isolate. Julia was sharing a queen-size bed with me in that dark, cool room. Meanwhile, my family stayed upstairs to socially distance.
I remember one early morning when we both rolled over, looked at each other, and immediately started crying. We held each other close, hugging, sobbing, and commiserating. Between the tears, we uttered the question, “How is this our life right now?"
For those first 2 months of COVID-19, we wore masks around family members outside our household, especially our precious 90-year-old Gram. No hugs, no kisses, no normal. We prayed for a solution, cried for a miracle, and watched the news in despair and horror as the death toll and case numbers rose daily. With every addition of a new standard or restriction, we said, “How is this our life right now?"
In all the chaos surrounding our lives, love was our constant. No matter how unnerving the world around us was, I knew I had the love of my family to help get us all through. No matter how little toilet paper there was in the stores, no matter how crazy things got with restrictions, and social distancing, and mask wearing, and paranoia, there they were.
I had an exposure to a patient with COVID-19 at work when the pandemic was just starting to affect my community. I was under a county-mandated quarantine afterward. I wasn't worried about myself so much, but I was worried about my family. What if I brought this home to them? Are they washing their hands? Why are they coughing? Does my son feel hot? I felt like I was always on edge, constantly waiting for the coronavirus to infiltrate our little family. Luckily, I never contracted the virus, but the paranoia and the worry were enough to do one in.
Work was a continuous ebb and flow. Fortunately, we were very well staffed at our hospital and we were not overwhelmed with a large number of patients with COVID-19. We set up a COVID-19 section in our hospital and had staffing levels appropriate to the extra time and energy needed to care for these patients. It was stressful but manageable. Census dropped and personal protective equipment was monitored, sterilized if necessary, doled out, and used. Luckily, we had plenty of supplies, unlike many facilities downstate and across the country and the world. I remember thinking how lucky I was to have a job that was “essential." To have job security in these incredibly uncertain times was eye-opening. My sister, dad, aunts, uncles, and most of my immediate relatives all had essential jobs during the pandemic.
I remember thinking about my own kids and their futures. When they think about what they want to do for a career, I want them to remember that being an essential worker in the times of crisis brings money home and keeps food on your table. In my 41 years, never had I thought about that. I didn't want it to be lost on my kids.
As the months have gone on, our “new normal" is becoming easier, but it's far from perfect. I hate that my kids must stay home to learn their studies. I hate that I am still worried about people getting sick. I hate that I have masks hanging from my car shifter and hand sanitizer in every bag I own, but I will continue to do as required to keep my family, my community, and myself safe.
However, it has not all been so bad. I have never been closer to my family, both extended and immediate. My hands have never been cleaner, and my bank account has never been more flush due to missing our yearly vacation. At work I learned so much. Our hospital is a close-knit team, and we have all come together during these times. I am grateful for my life and my community. Here's to seeing the silver lining and realizing that yes, this really is our life right now, but it won't be forever.
Laura Dreissigacker Hooker is a medical/surgical clinical ladder 3 nurse at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, N.Y.