I Work in Healthcare During a Pandemic, and it’s Really Impacting My Writing.

When all of this is over, I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same.

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Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

Since around the beginning of March, when the medical director of the Nursing Home where I work warned the administrators that it was a matter of when, not if the coronavirus reached the facility and my residents, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that the building is a ticking time bomb.

Well yesterday, the bomb went off.

Our first resident was diagnosed with COVID-19, and the results came back on her birthday.

There really is no amount of mental preparation that can get you ready for the moment when the inevitable finally hits. Instantaneously, aside from overwhelming fear the feelings of being dirty, dangerous, expendable, and above all, guilt washed over me with such ferocity I knew my knees would have buckled if I stood when my boss told me the news. The building has been closed to all visitors indefinitely since March 13th, two weeks before the first reported case even came to the county. Every day since even a few days before visitors were banned, all workers have been screened at the door for symptoms. One of us employees, tasked with the responsibility of keeping these residents as safe and healthy as possible, had been asymptomatic and unwittingly brought in this disease. And we won’t know for another three days just how widely it’s spread. All residents in the entire facility have now been tested, and all staff are in the process of being tested as well. I was tested yesterday, and it will be a long time before I forget the painfully uncomfortable, invasive nature of that test.

Long before the virus reached the building I’ve noticed the impact this surreal, uncertain period in history is having on my mental health and my writing as a result.

For weeks now, I’ve begun to notice my inability to focus on or even remotely enjoy anything. I’ve felt with each passing day the slow slipping away of the drive, determination, and excitement writing has brought to me since I was six years old. But that should come as no surprise when I feel like a shell of my former self. There are moments where I will catch myself just sitting on the couch, watching America’s Next Top Model with a cup of my favorite peach tea trying to escape for a bit from my new reality, but more often than not out of the blue my stomach drops, my heart starts racing, and it takes every ounce of concentration I have not to panic. I would love nothing more than to stay in this apartment until all of this is over.

But that is not possible for me.

Instead today, I was fit-tested for the N95 and told what the plan was moving forward with it, which would be based on the extent of the outbreak in the building. As I prepared to help my coworker get her resident on to the toilet, she told me that she’d cried this morning on her way to work not just because she was terrified of what was going to happen to our residents, to her, and what she could bring home to her two year old daughter, but because she had noticed that some members of the community had already begun to forcefully blame us employees for bringing the virus in to the building. A virus that is so easily transmitted, you might even be spreading it just with the soles of your shoes.

As hard as it is to feel like a failure, it’s even harder knowing that there are people in your community who think you’re a failure too.

I’m trying to be kind to myself. It should come as no surprise that I’m not able to dedicate as much of myself to my writing as I used to be able to. There was a time where I could come home from working a full eight hour shift, drop my purse, and immediately sit down at my laptop to begin writing. Now even something I have loved more than anything else, and relied on as my favorite coping mechanism has become a chore. They say that you cannot pour from an empty cup, and when it comes to my writing I feel that’s certainly the case. I don’t even know who I am anymore, so why would I be able to recognize the words flowing across my computer screen?

Maybe one day I’ll get back to loving writing again. Maybe one day I’ll be able to once again enjoy the feeling of sitting down with my Macbook Air and knowing exactly what it is I want to write about for the day. But right now my residents are getting everything that I have left in me, and they deserve nothing less.

Lauren is a writer & leftist with analysis on topics related to politics & policy. She can be reached at LaurenMartinchek@gmail.com or Twitter @xlauren_mx

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