Lauren Bailey has a background in sociology and public health, and currently works in acute care as a front-line registered nurse.
Lauren: As we enter into Week 9 of the COVID-19 pandemic, each day something unfolds. There are new rules and laws, there are more cases, and unfortunately more deaths.
But for me as a front-line worker, there is this itching paradox that has been rubbing me the wrong way. I am suddenly not “just a nurse.” I am now a front-line worker and a supposed health-care hero. Unexpectedly, I am skipping lines, getting greatly appreciated discounts, pay raises, nightly standing ovations, and for the first time, I’m feeling like I get the recognition that we deserve.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. In fact, I am eternally grateful for these accommodations and it is a pleasure to be helping patients and working on the front-lines. But something isn’t sitting right. It seems unfair. Besides a new virus, not much has changed. Nurses have always put our lives on the line to care for others and we will continue to post-pandemic.
The questions I pose: why does it take a pandemic such as COVID-19, for the general public to finally realize that I am not “just a nurse.” Why does it take a pandemic for our government to suddenly realize nurses deserve a pay raise?
I am not talking about the measly 1 percent raise the nursing union is still in arbitration about and hasn’t settled on, but an actual $4 an hour raise, plus a monthly premium. Why does it take a pandemic to recognize that nursing, a predominantly female-dominated profession, is important? Suddenly, we do matter; we do save lives, and we are essential.
Were we not life-saving heroes before the virus? We continue to provide the same care we always have. We continue to spend hours in our patients’ rooms caring and advocating for them. We continue to hold our patients’ hands during their most intimate moments. We continue to provide after-death care and educate on different health conditions. We continue to mix and hang medications and perform CPR, and we continue to communicate with both the health-care team and the patient and their family. Besides wearing protective gear (hopefully!), not a lot has changed.
The public may find it surprising that prior to COVID-19, I used to daily have patients who would require isolation and PPE. In those days masks and face shields were not being rationed, but I was continually putting myself at risk, just as I do now.
I had the potential to regularly be exposed to things such as influenza, multi-resistant staph infection (MRSA), c-difficile infection, tuberculosis, shingles, scabies, bed bugs, and the list goes on. Not to mention the risk of violence on the job. That’s right, nurses are at a high risk of getting injured both by patients and by the physical demands of the job. But during those days I was still “just a nurse.” Nobody seemed to know what PPE even stood for, or cared what happened during the long and demanding shifts.
Nursing is both a difficult and extremely rewarding profession. I can’t think of another profession where every day is completely different. Where you can actually laugh, cry, be frustrated, and hyper all in one shift. Where you can save a life, and lose a patient on the same day.
I get excited about even the smallest things, such as helping a patient sit up for the first time after surgery. These small things make the job worth it. In fact, many of my colleagues would agree that we need those small things to get through our shifts because there’s still a whole lot of you are “just a nurse” mentality prevailing.
There are mass feelings of underappreciation, frustration, and sadness. There are condescending comments, regular deaths, and high levels of stress. I am glad to be finally recognised because I truly believe that our work does matter.
So, I ask you to consider how we will treat nurses and all front-line workers once COVID-19 is a distant memory. We must remember this time when we were considered front-line heroes and forever be gone with the mentality of being “just a nurse.”
A version of this story was originally published on https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2020/05/11/suddenly-im-not-just-a-nurse.html