Nursing always felt natural to me. It offered me a multi-faceted career with the flexibility to travel and explore new hobbies, all while making an impact on people’s lives. It challenged me mentally, allowed me to connect with others, and taught me to work as a team. I was able to bond with patients, their support systems, and also my coworkers who spanned all healthcare professions. They have always been the ones beside me as we work day and night to provide quality care and medicine, no matter the resources available.
“I never expected that the things I loved about nursing would be thrown at me sideways in a global pandemic.”
Working in the COVID-19 ICU forced all of us to adapt to the challenges of an unknown disease to provide nursing care under chaotic, unforeseen conditions. Connecting with patients became more difficult under the layers of PPE. Not to mention the fear of putting your own health at risk every time you stepped into a COVID-19 patient’s room. I had to find creative ways to connect families through technology and use my medical knowledge to provide comfort and insight to those unable to be at their friend or family’s bedside. This level of support became the norm, but it was emotionally draining as I attempted to fill the void of families at the bedside.
Teamwork became even more essential as providing medical care required being in a 75 degree room in full PPE for hours at a time. Facing the unknown trajectory of a disease bonded those of us in COVID-19 care units in ways we never imagined.
On top of it all, during this time I was receiving updates about my uncle who was hospitalized for COVID and ultimately passed away in the first month of the pandemic. Each night I showed up to care for my patients alongside my coworkers, while coming to terms with the loss of a family member in the most difficult months of my nursing career yet.
With quarantine and lockdown measures in effect, familiar coping methods were unavailable to us. No more decompressing at a coffee shop, family vacations to the beach, or endlessly roaming Target at the end of a shift. We were left to deal with the trauma of each day mostly on our own. Luckily, my COVID ICU team helped me get through the beginning of the pandemic as we all adapted to our new everyday lives, knowing we may be dealing with the trauma of this experience for years to come.
But in August 2020, I came across First Descents who offered me a way to get back outside and safely connect with others on the frontlines in Colorado. Getting outside to breathe the fresh mountain air is the best reminder of just how lucky I am to be healthy in the middle of a pandemic. First Descents Hero Recharge Program not only let me explore the Colorado outdoors in new ways through rock climbing and mountain biking, but it allowed me to start processing the emotions I suppressed while working on the COVID-19 frontlines. Connecting with other frontline workers was an invaluable experience but it felt even more impactful to process and heal together while we explored the Rocky Mountains. As my legs were shaking at the top of a rock climbing route, I already knew my new FD Community had my back. The trust was immediate and the encouragement was unparalleled.
First Descents reminded me how good it feels to challenge myself in the outdoors and how important getting outside is for my mental health. Processing the emotions and beginning the healing journey alongside fellow frontline workers was an added bonus that I didn’t know just how much I needed.
First Descents also illustrated how the outdoors welcomes you, wherever you are in your healing journey. Whether you’re concentrating on scaling a rock wall to forget about life’s worries or relaxing into your body as you practice yoga and meditation, nature will always hold a place for you. First Descents provided the outlet for healthcare workers to begin the process of healing ourselves from a trauma we couldn’t acknowledge while working on the frontlines. After returning from my weekend in Florissant, CO I made getting outdoors a priority as a way to care for myself while providing care to others as an ICU nurse. Rock climbing and mountain biking were terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time, but reinforced the ways in which challenging myself physically could provide a mental escape from the stresses of life.
As a night shift nurse, each morning in the hospital I look forward to the sunrise. It’s a way to connect to nature in a small way while in the confines of a hospital. Taking the pandemic one day at a time has made the past year feel like ten, and still it continues. The healthcare community is beginning to resign ourselves to the fact that COVID-19 will be around longer than any two week quarantine initially predicted while continuing to place stress on the healthcare workers facing it day in and day out. When you interact with the healthcare workers in your life, I hope you offer grace and acceptance. This year, we’ve seen and experienced more heartbreak, loss, isolation, confusion, and separation than we expected to see in a lifetime. First Descents provided me a place to begin my healing journey, but it isn’t over yet. I still search for ways to find the sunshine in everyday life, but it still feels hard, losses are still fresh, and long hours in the hospital continue to add to the moral distress and trauma of working the frontlines of a global pandemic.
To support healthcare workers, reach out and offer information about programs like First Descents. Meet a healthcare worker where they’re at and remind them that getting outside to experience the fresh air can turn a whole day around. Together, we’re all just trying to make it one day at a time.