We have two daughters who are nurses at opposite ends of the spectrum, the younger working with elderly patients in a nursing home facility and the older working with infants in neonatal intensive care. The plight of the elderly as prime targets for the novel coronavirus is well-known, but not discussed much is the heart-rending situation in which mother and baby are separated and isolated at birth. The inability to bond at the outset during a time of great uncertainty takes a silent toll on all parties involved. That is why, among many other reasons, both of our daughters are rightly touted as frontline heroes. They are unsung no more.
There isn’t a case book on how health care workers should treat people, but this one that I put away to read on a rainy day comes close.
Molly Case studied English literature and creative writing at Bath Spa University in England before embarking on a career in nursing. Her way with words is ample and evident as she describes her classroom lessons on the spread of infection. Students would not be allowed to work on the wards until they understood the fundamentals of infection control and how to protect patients. The tutor set up a black metal box with a UV tray underneath. They were taught the hand-washing stages and then have their hands examined beneath the UV light to see what remnants they hadn’t managed to scrub away. Molly writes: “Most of the time it was our fingernails, the thin troughs of cuticle lined with debris invisible to the naked eye. And so we did it once more, washing our palms with soap and water, interlacing our fingers, our thumbs, learning the correct technique and hoping this time we had rinsed it all away.”
Who would have thought that just a few months after Molly’s book was published, COVID-19 would turn hand washing into an art form for the masses?
Cleanliness has always been next to godliness, but never more so than during these challenging times. Despite our collective best efforts, people will die. That has always been the case, but they are doing so in a way that challenges our ability to maintain compassion and dignity. Here, too, Nurse Case provides a template, relating an interaction during her student nursing days with a healthcare assistant named Linda. Healthcare assistants carry out numerous tasks behind the scenes in the hospital, ranging from bed making to helping to feed, to washing and dressing patients. After deftly describing the scene in which Linda shows her how to shroud an elderly patient who has just died, Molly takes my breath away as she writes:
Then Linda went to the far wall, opened the blind and the window. I asked her why she had done that.
She looked at me. “To let her soul out”, she said.