The Nurse Break recently held a very popular Nursing During a Pandemic 2021 Writing Competition. We were inundated with submissions and thank everyone. By Wendy Thacker, Community District Nurse. She has called this piece ‘FIERCE‘. To get notified of future competitions and content, sign up here.

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Someone once told me that an old Turkish curse was to wish someone interesting times. Someone also penned, and I forget who, that the world is robust but we are not. That we do not need to save the planet for she will survive in whatever form she does, that it’s us who need saving because we, as a species, will not.

So I sit here in isolation, as a close contact of someone infected with a one in one hundred year pandemic virus, contemplating the microscopic and the macroscopic. As a nurse, I’m fascinated with the microscopic, the invasion process, the systems affected and I’m in just as much awe as I was when I was a wet behind the ears student. With all that we do to ourselves, how does this pile of walking talking cells not just self destruct every other day?

Then, as one does, the thoughts turn to the antivaxxers, the protesters, the I don’t give a damners, and while the ire no longer rages, it leads me to ponder the macroscopic. This is us as a human race, each with importances, each with differences of understanding, each with different levels of acceptable risk, each with different desires and each with different fears.

So it’s with this slightly skewed perspective, that I’d like to tell you a story. A story that gave me great perspective on what it means to actually be alive, even in a pandemic.

I’ll call her Ada. This is my grandmothers name and I don’t use the term grandmother as a simile. I’m using her name because these were both fierce women and we don’t highlight fierce women enough.

Ada suffered from pulmonary fibrosis. She was 4’8” and lived on more oxygen than she did food and water. This wasn’t all she was but as a nurse on the ward, this is usually all we have the privilege to see but this one patient needed a little more one on one care and in those times she shared some of herself and her life.

Ada and her husband bought a plot of land as young twenty somethings and built their home. Not like today where building a home means getting a contractor, Ada and her husband physically hammered nails and laid bricks. Wistful eyes painted more of the picture as she told me of the wonderful life they’d had together. Three children, nine grandchildren and she’d lost count of the great grandchildren. He’d developed a degenerative eye condition and like most of our patients, her health literacy shed no more light on his diagnosis but this is really unimportant. She supported him in his blindness and then nursed him in his final years, ultimately to live on her own; independent and continuing to thrive.

By the time I met her, she was quietly spoken, struggling to breathe and closer to the end of her life than either she or I cared to acknowledge.

I’d had my morning tea and this in itself was a feat. Donning wasn’t at all worrisome, it was the doffing that sent my anxiety through the roof. What was on me? How much was on me? Was there anything at all and were my layers of plastic and other synthetics going to landfill needlessly? I think, I think too much but nevertheless, I needed to wee and so my desire to help the patients and not puddle on the floor, far exceeded my desire to save the planet.

After donning for the second time but certainly not the last for the shift, I quickly did head check and noticed that Ada’s water jug was refilled. I asked her if the morning tea trolley had been around and the simple reply, “I got it myself,” told me this was not any ordinary nonagenarian.

“If this many people are putting in so much effort into my well being, then I should at least try to meet them part of the way.”

This was clearly who she was, how she lived her life and how she was going to continue to be. Quietly spoken and fierce.

And this is what gave me the resolve to nurse those who wanted crystals instead of antibiotics, natural immunity instead of a vaccine because it’s not these people who forge the human race into the future. While they are important and vital and necessary,  I am not inspired by them. I take no life lessons from them. It’s the tenacious, fierce ones like Ada, that brandish my soul and carve more than their own path.

So after being told I was a close contact of someone at the local supermarket, the ensuing palpitations and a short stint in ED, (the second one I might add and embarrassingly recognised by two of the nurses on shift), I drew on the resolve of Ada and the many other fierce women in my life and dared myself to rise to the pandemic challenge.

There is fierceness in all of us and I am not so special to think that I’m exempt from being extraordinary.