Why I Can’t Handle the Daily Healthcare Appreciation Applause

Every night at 7:00pm, people rally from their windows and balconies to cheer, bang pots and pans, blow whistles, hold signs in praise of medical staff. People are writing encouraging notes on sidewalks in sidewalk chalk outside of hospitals all over the world showing their appreciation. Restaurants are donating food, posts are being shared highlighting the bravery and courage of front line workers. 

I can say very honestly that since this started happening, at 7pm when the cheers and horns start, I retreat to my bedroom and the second the door shuts, the tears fall, and let me tell you, they fall hard. The first time it happened I was so shocked I had no idea why I was crying, but by the 3rd night I had it figured out, there were two reasons for this.

The first was this:

Hearing people cheering in admiration touched a part of my heart that yearned and begged for appreciation like this for ten years working “the front lines” and it was very seldom received. I am overwhelmed with emotions knowing that finally people are getting recognized for their work, that people are supported by the entire universe, that people are finally being encouraged in a thankless job. It’s quite literally one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen or heard. 

I spent years working as a nurse in long term care, and even more years inside hospital walls. During both these stints I worked more hours in a week than most people worked in three, I am simply mentioning this so you understand I had many hours under my belt so I know intense the grind could get. With very little support from management, constantly adding more paperwork thinking it would fix a problem, with managing both behavioral patients and the acutely ill, balancing time off, juggling holidays and being away from family, coming in to work smelling fresh and leaving smelling like a barn, stress affecting me both physically and mentally, it wore me down to a place where I worked simply for the paycheck and because I didn’t know how to walk away, I eventually burnt out.

I want to stop for a second and say that I feel weird writing a blog about my personal experience because it feels very selfish and like this blog is all about me. That is not what I’m trying to do. I am trying to show how my own journey gave me more appreciation than ever for the people “I left behind”.

Fast forward 3 years. I am a different person in many ways. I have standards for my work, I prioritize my health and wellness before my work. I no longer work for money, but for the joy it brings me, working to fuel my soul vs. my bank account. I only nurse casually now and know that it’s the best thing for me. I am incredibly happy and have been able to work in so many other fields of work that have brought me more joy than I thought was possible. I’m completely fine with my new life, no longer working the front lines, it’s easy, I have freedom, I have time off, I am relaxed, it’s fantastic. 

Enter 2020

Corona sneaks in and then blankets the world with its power. People are panicking, anxiety peaks, the unknown stares us all in the face, people lose their jobs, we’ve been put into lock down, people are scrambling trying to hold on to whatever normalcy they can grasp at, and yet it’s in this moment that front line staff, police, fire, medics, doctors, nurses, auxiliary staff, techs, grocery store employees, delivery workers, anyone going to “battle” each day against Corona, is FINALLY getting some recognition for a thankless job. 

It took a global pandemic for people to get recognized and as much as this virus has brought us hardships and loss, I am so grateful that people who literally disregard everything about themselves to take care of others are being applauded, not just for the job they do but for the people they are, for their bravery, strength and courage.

I understand when people are in the hospital, on any given day, emotions run high, families often feel angry before they feel sad when a loved one receives a hard prognosis. Patients feel anger with their pain and act on it without intention of hurting their nurse, but can say and do very hurtful things in these moments. People don’t go to the hospital because they are happy. People don’t get admitted into long term care because they are excited to lose their independence and want to be one amongst 30 all seeking attention from the same, single nurse. Health workers are met with negative emotions each and every day so it sadly becomes the norm and finally in the brink of what has turned the world upside down, recognition is being given where it’s due.  

Hearing and knowing these people are being supported in this time is the most incredible and beautiful thing I have ever seen since graduating in 2008. Every cheer, every drawing, sign, song, note, delivery, is as beautiful as the next. 

I mentioned before there were two reasons for my tears and the second is this. 

I started experiencing something I had never felt before. It was something I never thought I’d ever feel and didn’t even really believe it was a thing. I could only describe this feeling as severe, crippling nurse guilt. 

I feel guilty for leaving so many of my hospital family behind to fend for themselves in this mess. Everyday they fight, while I watch from 3000 miles away from my phone while I’m at the beach on a 2 hour walk. I see headlines that so many of my “people” have been exposed and they don’t have enough supplies. I listen to them in group chats, discussing the fear of the unknown. I see their posts begging people to stay home. I feel them watching everyone complaining about having to stay home, while they would give anything to be in those shoes. 

I realize that I am one person and do not make a difference if I am with them or not, I also realize that I don’t need to feel guilty, it was fully my decision to leave and I don’t regret it, but the same way you feel responsibility in your own family, I feel the same with my work family. Despite every part of me that despised certain parts of my career and led me to burn out, there is always a fire, even if it’s dwindled to amber coals, it is still in there. I am still the stubborn, will put my back out for you, let me get in there and help, people pleaser that I’ve always been. You can take the nurse out of the hospital but you can’t take the nurse out of the nurse – that doesn’t sound as good as the country song, “you can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl”, but you get my point. 

I could ignore the guilt, I could keep living my easy, chill, life, or I could join my brothers and sisters, lose a bit of sleep, have to do things that gross me out, potentially be exposed to the c-word, and miss a couple family chat facetimes, but I know it’s temporary and that in this moment the needs of the world are greater than anything I will ever need in my personal life.  The last 3 years I tried to hide the fact that I was a nurse, I wanted to be known for other things, I didn’t want people to ask me why I didn’t nurse and why I chose to work in retail and walk dogs instead. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t hack it anymore and I just felt defeated in something I worked so hard at with little return. 

COVID changed that for me. It’s some nurse guilt, but mostly it’s the people rallying each and every night showing gratitude to medical staff that has given me courage over comfort to get back out there. I will be joining the front line again until we are through to the other side because it is my duty, because I can’t watch anymore episodes of tiger king and because it’s a part of me, I can never give up, no matter how hard I try. 

I hide from the cheers because I need to absorb them and feel them for what they are. I need to take time alone in the comfort of my bedroom to process what is happening. I know these cheers aren’t for me, I’m not implying that they are or should be, I can’t explain this fully, but my heart is so overcome with emotion knowing the people that are working the front lines, are being recognized. I know the feeling of thanklessness. I know it so well, and I know each and every healthcare worker knows the feeling well, so I know how touching it is for everyone inside “the trenches” to be fueled by this recognition, and that they are each touched in a different way and it gives them what they need to come back another day.

Just as I’m about to post this, its 7pm and right on schedule the cheers are starting and today for the first time since this started I didn’t cry. I felt tightness in my throat but I didn’t cry! This means I’m ready to start my own applause. I want to join in celebrating those who are working while I’m at home and will continue to do so until I’m back in scrubs and a mask.

I leave this week on a travel nurse assignment and I feel ready. I feel excited to do my part, I feel excited to serve people other than myself again, I feel pride in my profession and I feel encouraged to do so.

Thank you to everyone who has been working tirelessly around the clock and thank you to everyone who has stayed home and encouraged our healthcare workers. Your support clearly can’t be put into words because it took me a million paragraphs to try to put into words what my heart feels and I’m not even on the front line yet!

T H A N K Y O U !

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