Author Nikki Braaten is Brandi's cousin and has been a nurse for seven and a half years (including five in the ICU). She is a competent mom and fun wife with a smart sense of humor. Her experience in the ICU during COVID has given her a perspective that few of us have known.
I teared up today after getting my vaccine. For the first time this entire year, I felt hope and joy—hope for the normalcy I crave, hope for my family, and hope for everyone else. Today marks the beginning of a new journey.
When COVID hit in March, I broke down crying, filled with fear that I would bring it home to my husband and my then fifteen-month-old. I seriously contemplated leaving the ICU, but prayed and knew I should stay. I felt peace about working to fight this deadly disease, but that decision was followed by sooo many struggles in my marriage, my friendships, and myself.
In all my time as a nurse, these have been some of the sickest patients I've ever taken care of. I don't want anyone to have to endure this. I've seen families torn apart, pointing fingers at who spread the virus, their cries echoing through my mind along with the pleading of patients for help. I've had to navigate how to answer the question, "Am I going to die?!?" knowing the patient is declining and likely going to die. To help them end peacefully, I've let them know they're loved and, if they've wanted me to, I've prayed with them, knowing these are the last words many of them will ever hear.
This has changed me, helping me to slow down so that patients can have closure and time to grieve. Nursing has become less clinical, more personal, and more human.
Knowing how hard it was for my family and friends to understand the devastation I was seeing motivated me to make personal decisions to distance myself. I anxiously wanted to protect us all. The loneliness and sadness I've felt have been the most difficult part of the last ten months.
Despite the strife of 2020, I'm coming out a stronger person and a wiser nurse in setting boundaries and managing my emotions. I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and that brings me so much hope and joy! I'm looking forward to feeling comfortable going back to church and eating out, being able to expect my patients will live, and being around my friends and family more.
Unsplash Photo Cred: Jordan Wozniak