I always knew nurses were hard workers—they work long hours, care for people who can't care for themselves, see the unimaginable. They've always been heroes. But now, with the coronavirus outbreak, the spotlight is shining directly on the critical, life-saving work they do all the time.
Nurses and other healthcare workers all over the world are saying goodbye to the people they love every day (or, in some cases, temporarily living separately from them in order to keep them safe) and reporting for duty at local hospitals, offices and clinics to care for patients battling COVID-19. They're layering up, reusing and hoping they'll have enough personal protective equipment (PPE)—gloves, masks, hairnets, face shields, isolation gowns—so they can, as safely as possible, care for those who are sick and at-risk.
Anna Grace Downs is a 26-year-old medical student studying to become a physician, who was in the ICU battling COVID-19 mid-March. She experienced extreme discomfort, pain and anxiety and her nurses were the ones who got her through it. Their compassion, grace and selflessness inspired Downs to write a "love letter" so she could honor the sacrifices they made in order to care for her "through one of the most grueling experiences of my life," as she notes in her now-viral Facebook post.
"Tonight I was having trouble sleeping. My anxiety was rising as I had a flashback to my time in the ICU with COVID-19 (only two weeks ago). All the blinking lights, the monitors' shrill beeping, the pull of the PICC line, the ache in my arm from IVs, the scratchy sheets, the chest pain, the shortness of breath, the smell of Johnson's baby soap, the medications dripping their way into my body.
"I was scared to even move my body for fear that it would cause my oxygen to drop. I do not know how many hours I spent staring at my oxygen saturation on the monitor, willing it to rise, willing my anxiety to fall. All I wanted was one breath, unmarred by discomfort.
"Then I remembered my nurses. The nurses that rubbed my back as a vomited for what felt like the 100th time. The nursing assistant who brought me cup after cup of ice water when my fevers would not abate. The nurses that fluffed my pillows and told me that I would make it. The nurses who took care of my basic bodily functions when I was too weak to even raise my head. The nurses who fought for me when my symptoms felt unbearable. The assistants who answered my innumerable presses of the call button. I even had one nurse who would just come stand and watch at the window to my room because she said she was worried about me.
"For several nights in the ICU, I had a nurse named Kelleigh. She asked me about my life and made me laugh with her unforgettable laugh. She was a godsend. She did everything to ensure a good night of sleep for me, which was essential to maintaining my sanity. I requested her specifically.
"Looking back, I realize I was so desperate that I did not realize that my request was putting her in harm's way. She was the ICU nurse who got stuck with the COVID-19 patient and she showed up anyway with grace and humor. I will never forget that sacrifice.
"When I was alone and terrified, these nurses became my family, seemingly taking care of me as they would their own children. From every 'Sweetheart, what can I do for you?' to every 'You're gonna get through this,' I felt their commitment and caring spirits. I could not have my family with me in the hospital but knowing that these capable and brave women were taking care of me left me feeling safe. I'm sure my parents appreciated all the phone calls the nurses made to let them know how their daughter was doing.
"I will be working as a brand-new physician in just a few months, and I know that the nurses in my new institution will be almost as vital to me in my role as intern as they were to me in as a patient in the ICU. I now have a deeper understanding of the role of a nurse, an unwavering respect for their call to help, and profound gratitude for the immensely hard work that they do.
"I cannot offer enough thanks to those women who stood strong with me through one of the most grueling experiences of my life. So here is my love and my gratitude and an infinite number of air hugs. The smiling eyes behind your goggles and N-95 masks will stay with me forever."
Thank you for sharing your story, Anna. And thank you to the nurses on the front lines of this scary virus.
Anna posted to Facebook this week to share the good news that not only did her new COVID-19 test results come back negative, but that she was also able to donate plasma to help those currently fighting the coronavirus.
According to the American Red Cross, "People who have fully recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their plasma that can attack the virus. This convalescent plasma is being evaluated as treatment for patients with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections, or those judged by a healthcare provider to be at high risk of progression to severe or life-threatening disease."
Anna, you sound just as amazing and selfless as the nurses who cared for you. We're celebrating your negative test results right alongside you!