By: Anonymous ICU Nurse Manager
Get in, sit down, mask off…breathe. As I sanitize my hands, I exhale the stress of the day while listening to the silence of my car. The COVID ICU is loud. These thirty seconds of silence at the end of my day are my favorite. It’s here that relief, anger and sadness come out as I sit alone in my car.
Managing an ICU during a pandemic has been hard. My staff has truly had the hardest time, but leading them and providing all the answers they need while trying to hold myself together and remain calm has been an enormous weight.
At the beginning of our COVID year, I tried to keep myself organized. I created a spreadsheet for everything: people who donated food, number of ventilators in use, names of patients who died… After a while, I needed a spreadsheet to track my spreadsheets.
The first few weeks, I had a hard time leaving. I didn’t want to ask my staff to do anything I wasn’t willing to do myself. I was in the room the first time we proned a patient. I was present for shift huddles at 0700/1900 every night for weeks in order to communicate the changes to the next shift, as things were changing almost hourly. I stayed up late watching the census, answering midnight phone calls and waking up at my alarm to grab my phone and see what came in over night. I was living and breathing my job, taking no time to recoup or take care of myself.
I preached self care to my staff, reminding them to check in with their emotions and take time for themselves. I told them to get good sleep, stay healthy, and get outside during the summer. The day I drove home and ate three cupcakes in the car, I realized I needed to practice what I preached. In my five years as a manager, I had gained twenty pounds. “Eating my feelings” is how I explained my weight gain to my PCP. I didn’t want to use COVID as an excuse for me to gain another 20 pounds.
I found release in working out. Forty-five minutes to myself in my basement was life altering. Some days it was the relaxing mindfulness of a yoga flow. Some days were rage workouts with loud music, heavy lifting and a lot of yelling. I truly think working out is what saved me this year, both physically and mentally.
Reflecting on the last year, I am so proud of the care my team has provided to the sickest patients. As a manager, I’m proud of myself for leading my team into the fire, and bringing them out on the other side.
Thank you to all the COVID nurses and managers out there that gave so much of themselves this year.
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