1. Kottler, Janey Eden DNP, FNP-BC


A volunteer during the pandemic gains insight into her role as an NP.


Article Content

Wake up. Check. Chug coffee. Check. Throw on scrubs, put extra clothes in my bag, say goodbye to my husband. Check, check, check. I look in the mirror-everything feels normal, just like life before COVID-19. I notice discoloration on the tip of my nose and cheekbone. Definitely tender to the touch. I'm guessing it's the bruising from double-masking; even so I feel fortunate to be protected. I feel built for this.

Figure. Illustration... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Illustration by Lisa Dietrich

My brain starts recapping last night's nightmare. You will die if you touch your face. The nightmares started one week into volunteering at a COVID-19 evaluation clinic as an NP. I woke up just before my alarm clock, at 7:15 AM, hands clenched above my head, profusely sweating. Have you ever had a nightmare about touching your face? This was probably my first.


March 30, 2020, was the first day working at this clinic; it was the same day I was supposed to be returning from my honeymoon in Panama. Our wedding reception was supposed to be March 22 but was canceled. My husband and I knew that, most importantly, we had each other, so we went to two courthouses to obtain a marriage certificate. With our immediate families present, everyone standing six feet apart, and a livestream going for loved ones unable to attend, we were married.


I feel guilty expressing sadness over our ruined wedding plans: this was the day that I had been envisioning since I was a little girl, but it feels selfish to sulk about the change in our plans. This was not supposed to be how we spent the first week of married life, but this is our reality. I now spend most days worrying about subjecting my new husband to COVID-19.


Almost immediately, guilt sets in. I think about my friend, 39 weeks pregnant, not knowing if her husband can be present at delivery; about another friend, whose father passed away for reasons not COVID related but family were still not allowed at the bedside; about my grandpa, just weaned from heparin to Coumadin with new-onset atrial fibrillation and needing twice-weekly blood tests. All unpostponable-unlike my wedding.


I submitted my name within minutes of the call for volunteers. This is what I am supposed to do, right? This is what I have spent countless hours training for. My temporary workplace functions as a COVID-19 urgent care on Chicago's West Side. It's one of the only clinics like this in an area with some of the highest rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths. We provide testing, exams, and social distancing education, and prescribe medication for symptomatic management at home. One of our most important tasks is deciding if patients should be evaluated at the ED.


I can feel my confidence growing each passing day here. I find myself picking up shifts, becoming family with the staff. This resource is needed, especially in an area where health disparities are so prevalent. You look at a map of Chicagoland and feel heartbroken. The racially diverse West and South Sides light up like Christmas trees where COVID-19 is rampant. Why are so many people dying? Is care sought too late? Is it the lack of access to health care or insurance? Is social distancing impossible given peoples' life circumstances?


I think about the single mother and her two children I treated recently. The mother is an essential worker at a grocery store and utilizes her neighbor for childcare during work hours. The family's neighbors are elderly: the wife stays at home while her husband is an essential worker, working on a factory line. They were grateful to have an income throughout the pandemic until her husband fell ill after COVID exposure at work. He has now inadvertently exposed his wife and the children she babysits. My distressed patient worries about no longer having childcare and being unable to generate an income to support her family, and is terrified that her children will become ill after exposure. What can I even tell her?


I feel my purpose revitalized at this clinic. It is my nurse training that I rely on to care for my anxious and fearful patients. What is foreign territory for me is dealing with my own anxieties and fears. The nursing mentality is complicated: we typically prioritize patients, family, and friends above ourselves. These unprecedented times require being kind not only to others but also to yourself; now more than ever we need to be there for ourselves and the essential workers because no one understands the mentality except those in it. Hang in there-we are built for this.