1. Quillin-McEwan, Molly BSA, RN, CCRN

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In the 13th century, to discover what language humans would speak naturally, Frederick II of Germany placed 50 newborns in the care of nurses who would only feed and bathe the children, but never hold them or speak to them. He never got an answer because all the infants died (


It is at our most vulnerable moments in life that we depend on each other the most. When we come into this world, when we leave, and those moments in between when misfortune or illness or tragedy strikes. For nurses, many of the people in our care sit at this most unfortunate of intersections: helpless and alone, unemployed, uninsured, frail, and vulnerable.


How many times have we cleaned the bodies of the dead? Put new sheets around them so their families would not see the blood, the vomit, the utter debasement of their loved one? Pulling the sheets over yet another body with another nurse, I wondered how much longer we can sustain this.


Yesterday I walked the halls of the intensive care unit. One room after another of persons sedated and proned. The silhouette of a man struck me, his form somehow familiar-a grandfather perhaps, like my grandfathers, many years gone now. I could imagine him in better days reading to a grandchild or, in younger years, holding the daughter who would call us any moment now, panic-stricken, for an update-any update-just to hang all her hopes on the word "better" from our lips. None of this had to happen. The bile rises in my throat when I watch the politics of the pandemic play out on TV every night. The whole nation has forgotten that there is no "us" and no "them." There was only ever us, and we will rise or fall together.


Independence is an illusion because our strength was never meant to be measured in the singular. It is a collective quality, one borne not in the width of shoulders or the capacity for physical work. Strength is measured in cooperation, in teamwork, in the ability to hold on to each other when one of us falls behind. It is all of us standing in one room taking time to pause for a life lost. Strength personified is not imbued in one of us; it is all of us moving in the same direction.


The COVID pandemic has brought to light so many of the ills of our society: the social and economic determinants of health on full display as black and brown communities have a hole blasted straight through them. But the darkness brought by the pandemic has illuminated the world with a clarity I would have thought impossible just a year ago-exhausted nurses working 16-hour shifts, nursing assistants making time to read messages from loved ones to patients sedated into unconsciousness, my own mother baking incredible quantities of treats to remind us that we are loved-all of us pushing past our own fears, running toward the sound of gunfire knowing we could be next.


Those infants died because humans were never meant to distance themselves from one another. Total isolation is cruel. We need to be touched, talked to, and held. We cannot become those nurses, charged with feeding and bathing given no license to do more. I have hope in the vaccine, but I know nothing will rescue our souls if we fail to do what is right, right now. For as tired as we may be, we must hold another hand, utter another prayer, give another update, and gift dignity at every opportunity. We underestimate the power of our presence, the comfort of our voice, and the peace in our caring.


Our profession has been thrusted into the most extraordinary of circumstances, testing our individual strengths and collective resilience. We have organized in the face of impossible circumstances to achieve remarkable outcomes. We demonstrate the depth and breadth of our knowledge and skill; but we are neither miracle workers nor heroes. We are ordinary people, and the heavy burdens of heartbreak and loss have weighed heavy on us. As the very real human cost of this pandemic unfolds, let us leave no nurse behind as we continue to press through. Together.