She is 22, no more. She is intrepid and determined. She is an example, to all of us.
She finished nursing school in New England, swiftly volunteered for service at a major New England hospital, was thrust onto the “coronavirus testing floor.” For her privacy and theirs, I will omit names. Like a combat pilot finally locked on a bogie, this is what she trained for. She had no complaints.
She thought to ask for masks but realized soon they were in short supply. She received one, used it until frayed and needed replacing. To preserve her mask, she sanitized it each evening, using a careful procedure. All dry by morning, back on it went, back out she went, no complaints.
Soon, she was moved to the “coronavirus floor,” or it moved in around her, as numbers of those afflicted multiplied. Some were brave, too brave, late to declare their condition. Some were unlucky, strong of heart, firm of faith, old or immune compromised. Some were inexplicably in the grip.
Elective surgery vanished from the hospital, as numbers of sick continued to climb. Assigned eight-hour shifts, typically three nurses per ICU patient, that soon vanished. She was put on 12-hour shifts, then back-to-back 12-hour shifts, then a string, then one nurse per patient, then one per two, then one for three. Needed, she had no complaints.
Tired, but drawn to those in need, unable to rest easily, happiest in motion, service and responding, she was soon exhausted. A testament to young America, she did not flag. In her case, the mix of motivations ranged from duty and mission fulfillment to faith and family. No complaints.
On her watch, in her state, coronavirus cases have gone from near zero in early March to more than 5000 by late March, to more than 15,000 by April 7th, to more than 28,000 by April 14th, to almost 40,000 by April 19th. The number of deaths stood at one the morning of March 1. Deaths from coronavirus stand at more than 1,700 in her state mid-April.
Still, her stamina has not retreated, commitment to the sick not diluted her sense of duty, nor fear made any appearance. Her colleagues seem to live by a similar code. Many around here are young, called to this mission just as young nurses and medics were World War II, no looking back.
In this engagement, the mortars are invisible, tricking an unalert mind into imagining no aerosol, molecular fingerprint, suspension of fine particles could deliver what a piece of projected ordinance might – or leave such a hole. Only that is entirely wrong, and these young nurses know it. These coronavirus aerosols do deliver and leave such holes.
But changes are occurring. These young nurses – and doctors as well – are up against something for which most never trained, just as most of America’s WWII nurses and medics faced contingencies, life-and-death decisions, real-time triaging, and damage on a scale and at tempo not taught – and in most cases, never imagined.
The holes left are not just by contagion and death, but something else. Medical personnel are beginning to face another unpredicted burden. In a hospital – the one this young nurse is in, and every other – there is a background fact newly gnawing at these young men and women of conscience.
They do not want to get sick chiefly because they cannot serve if sick. But they do not want to get inordinately sick because a new reality is sweeping them. By hospital and national protocols, if these medical personnel get seriously sick – the protocol is to give the next ventilator to them, not to another patient facing death.
That is the antithesis of their life mission, to accidentally find themselves depriving another of care in order to spare them. The protocols will not change, as they make sense. But unmeasured is the impact of all this on young Americans, those who are the best among us, who have deliberately placed themselves at risk for the rest of us.
Of course, these selfless young souls made the decisions that led them here, long ago. Their motivations are as much a part of them as their DNA. They are like the battlefield medics of another era, without further questions concerning what is at stake, and thus without reservation about self-endangerment.
But that is not to say we should not be aware of what is happening to them. Most will emerge from this pandemic stronger, more fully equipped for whatever lies ahead, resolved to be what they have always been, dedicated to others in a way few can lay claim to. But they are under enormous psychological, as well as physical pressure – and we should be aware.
Many of these young souls, the ones who are wresting the big number politicians talk of from their sterile havens, will emerge from this pandemic as old souls. They will be owed a debt we cannot repay, just as the medics and nurses who made life-saving their life’s mission in WWII were owed such a debt.
As we monitor, try to talk with, listen hard to, strive to understand for their sake and ours what front line patriots in this battlespace really look like, feel like, and are experiencing – it is important that we know of whom we speak. These are young, determined, highly capable, and incontrovertibly selfless Americans.
They will never describe themselves that way. Neither would a WWII nurse or medic. Not in their nature, not their temperament, not in their view of themselves, except it is who they are. The 22-year-old nurse does not think herself a source of inspiration, definition of national power, person radiating strength, inheritor of our national legacy, or moral compass reaffirming who we pray we are.
But she is all those things. If they are the last thing on her mind, they should be the first on ours. She is just 22, intrepid, determined, a resolute nurse, an enduring example. God bless her, and all those like her. They are the definition of America – at our best.