Massachusetts General Hospital
Boston, MA

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This is part of our series, Flattened By the Curve, which features the voices of doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, and others on the front lines against COVID-19. For information on how to submit, click here.

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I am a nurse who scrubs and circulates mostly trauma surgeries at Massachusetts General Hospital — the gunshots, the stabbings, the motor vehicle accidents. My day usually tips to the high-stress, be-ready-for-anything end of things. I’ve seen enough foreign objects come out of people’s abdominal cavities that you could fill a bookcase, but I still consider myself a new nurse. If anything, I’ve learned to become adaptive.

That humility I’ve gained helped me when I saw more and more of my operating room coworkers redeployed to different parts of the hospital in March — to the MedSurg floors to help prone patients, to the ICUs to help educate nurses how to don and doff gowns and gloves using sterile technique, to the Boston Hope Field hospital where 1,000 beds were prepped for COVID patients and homeless individuals. My wife, a physical therapist, was deployed there.

Yet still, I remained in one of the few Operating Rooms that were left open. We were down to a skeleton crew who focused on the emergent and urgent cases. Traumas, sadly, still happen.

Our routines became a bit different. Patients who were COVID positive, or even COVID risk, were transported directly into the operating room. Here, I met them wearing my PPE — the notorious n95 mask, a face shield, gloves, a hair cap, a paper-thin yellow gown — and we began to operate.

Even with all of those precautions, my imagination would run wild. Every tingle in my throat was the virus entering my body. Every sneeze, every cough was a warning sign. Or was it just allergies? Was the room normally this warm? Or was I getting feverish?

Weeks went by like this. Then months.

We’re now opening more operating rooms and calling back some of our deployed staff. And even though things are getting somewhat back to “normal”, the underlying anxiety is still there. And it’s very, very difficult.

Nurses are not trained to keep their distance from their patients or to treat them like a potential threat. We embrace the sick or wounded and hold their hands at the bedside, reassuring them that they are not alone. And though it may sound self-righteous, that’s something I will not stop doing. Through all this madness, I want my patients to remember that they are never the threat. They are people. And if I’m your nurse, right before anesthesia induction, I’ll be holding your hand.

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Alex is a nurse, poet, and writer. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he is able to longboard, bicycle, and cook with his wife. He is looking forward to holding his newest nephew, Oscar.