by Ashley Drake BSN, RN
March 11, 2020. No longer a placeholder on the calendar, but rather an inflection point in life as we knew it. Nurses around the world have undoubtedly played an intimate, yet integral role in this monumental event, the COVID 19 global pandemic. A threat was introduced and all eyes were on us. Like a soldier preparing for battle, it was time to put on our armor and fight.
In September of 2019, I began my journey in oncology nursing, a new nurse ready and eager to care for people in their most vulnerable states. The opportunities were endless and I was ready to learn. Little did I know, just 6 months later we would face an unthinkable learning curve and an unpredictable set of challenges. Suddenly nurses with 10+ years of experience and nurses with less than one year of experience were all leveled to the same playing field, faced with unfamiliar territory. I hesitate to call it a playing field because there was nothing about this situation that felt like a game. The next year would be met with fear, anxiety, grief, frustration, and feelings of hopelessness.
We are nurses. We show up to serve, to care, and to save lives no matter the circumstances. Our energy stems from caring for others in their time of need. To now communicate with patients behind glass windows, face shields, and faces covered by masks threatened everything we were ever taught.
You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, a masked face carries endless stories. We remember our patients’ names, faces, and family members. The look on a patient’s face when told “You have cancer” or “There is nothing else we can do for you” is an image we can never erase. We also remember the way our patients’ eyes light up and they cry tears of joy after receiving good news and a renewed sense of hope. This intimate connection between nurse and patient is the reason I pride myself in saying “I am a nurse,” something a pandemic cannot take away.
Amidst the fear and grief of the last year or so, I simultaneously witnessed the most beautiful examples of courage, service, community, innovation, and compassion. I have seen first-hand the power of nurses coming together to care for not only their patients but for each other too. We’ve grown stronger through the storm and solidified the bonds of our nursing community. The resilience we displayed will not be forgotten and will carry with us for years to come. Don’t get me wrong, it is challenging work and there are days you may question if the things you do make a difference. However, just like we remember our patients’ names and stories, they will remember the time you went the extra mile, held their hand, or simply sat and listened. There is beauty and grace in the way nurses remain strong while preserving intimacy and thoughtfulness in every patient they care for.
Although it may feel like a distant daydream, there will come a day when COVID 19 is a memory. When masks and social distancing are a thing of the past, I know one thing will remain and that’s the strength and beauty of the nursing profession. If the last year and a half has demonstrated anything, it has been the continued sense of pride and gratitude I feel to be a member of this community. I am truly humbled and honored to be a nurse and for that, I thank you, my fellow nurses. Undoubtedly, there will always be more work to be done. But I am confident now, more than ever, that we will continue to rise to the occasion no matter what comes our way.
Ashley has been a hematology oncology nurse at HUP since September 2019. She is also a proud Penn State Alumni. She is passionate about educating patients, family members and her fellow nurses. In her free time, Ashley likes to go to the beach, go on bike rides, exercise, travel, and spend time with family and friends.