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Editor’s note: This post is from Amber Soucy MSN, RN, a board member of our Society for Participatory Medicine. Like many front-line health workers she hides the stress (see her profile photo at right), but this era is tough in ways nobody ever signed up for, and this post covers an angle that’s all Amber: the difficulty of being kept away from the patient. (I myself created the photo composite in the header image, with her permission; it’s not something she submitted.) Here’s her post.

Amber's Facebook profile photo

Amber’s Facebook profile photo

I’m a social person by nature. I love talking, interacting, and learning with and from others. Never in my career as a nurse did I think that I wouldn’t be able to be social.

COVID-19 has impacted all of our lives; some might be out of work and stuck at home, others might be struggling to make ends meet and are worrying about not being able to put food on their tables to feed their families. Me? Well, I’m a nurse so I’m on the front line. I work at a level 1 trauma academic hospital in Boston, MA and we are always booming. Patient after patient, code after code, we see and treat thousands of patients each week. Now with COVID-19, we have even more patients that are not only presenting to our facility but that are more critically ill.

One of my passions is improving the patient experience. I focus my efforts on strengthening the patient-provider partnership (I’m a board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine), and laying down a foundation of trust so that I can collaborate with my patients and allow them input in their plans of care. I spend time by the bedside, holding my patients’ hands, conversing about their past, present and future, and learning from them every step of the way. I care, I truly do.

But now, I can’t keep my line of communication open with my patients. Our communication is closed the minute I close their room doors. I don’t like knowing patients are closed off. I don’t want them thinking and feeling as if they are alone. I hate that we can’t allow visitors to cheer our patients up. I hate not being able to be present.

The mental and emotional toll that COVID-19 is imposing on healthcare professionals is unreal and truly unprecedented. I would hope that nurses and doctors entered the profession with the desire to help, care and treat. I mean, that’s definitely why I chose nursing as a career. But now this virus is wedging itself between my patients and me and it’s, by far, the biggest barrier I have ever faced.

The minute I leave a patient’s room and close their door, I leave them alone. They’re already riddled with fatigue and general malaise, but now I feel like I’m leaving them helpless and hopeless. And that’s exactly how I’m feeling too.

I cry almost every day and night thinking about how I wish I could have done more, how I wish I just could have been more present and caring. But I can’t, and it’s not by choice but rather because of the brutally crucial precautions to keep myself, my hospital community, and the community at large safe and healthy.

I’ve needed to accept that it’s okay to not be okay about this. It’s okay to feel, whichever end of the spectrum those feelings may land. We are all in this together and the more people know and understand this, the less alone we should feel. And the feeling of not being alone is the greatest and most important right now. We need it.

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