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A nurse’s plea as COVID numbers spike: Think of others | COMMENTARY

“Let’s go.” That’s what I said back in March when our 24-bed intensive care unit at Mercy Medical Center in downtown Baltimore City was converted into a COVID-19 biocontainment unit. After 36 years in the ICU, nine of them as the charge nurse, I thought I had seen it all.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen much more these past nine months, the heaviest being the death in July of my dear friend Dr. Joseph Costa, the chief of our critical care division, following complications after he contracted COVID-19. As ICU nurses and doctors, our jobs require a certain level of fortitude, but the death of Joe, who was the epitome of a no-nonsense ICU professional, has rocked me to my core. Still we — nurses and doctors who treat the sickest patients in the city — keep coming to work, suiting up in our personal protective equipment (PPE) and fighting this novel coronavirus. It’s just what we do.

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Now, as the weather grows colder and coronavirus numbers spike across the world and our country, including here in Maryland, our beds are full again. The science on masks is rock solid, and I can tell you from experience, if they keep me safe in patients’ rooms in our ICU, they will do the job of protecting you in grocery store aisles or while picking up your Friday night pizza. Yet their effectiveness and dedication of our medical personnel are still being questioned, even by our president.

But if the science proving that wearing face coverings slows the spread of COVID-19 still doesn’t convince you to don your own to save yourself, perhaps this simple phrase will. It’s one I repeat to my family and friends more than ever these days and that I used to say over and over to my kids when they were younger in an effort to teach them empathy.

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Think of others.

Think of the children who would much rather be together in class instead of learning behind their computer screens. Think of the elderly family members who haven’t been able to hug or even touch their loved ones in months. Think of the baristas, restaurant workers and small business owners who are fighting to stay afloat by serving you, despite the risks to themselves. Think of the families mourning the loss of a dear loved one, taken unexpectedly and always too soon, by a virus no one knew anything about at this time last year. And think of us, the front line doctors, nurses, hospital staff and personnel who show up every day, just like we’ve always done, to take care of every patient who comes through our doors.

Let’s also practice new ways of thinking of others, of taking care of each other as this holiday season comes around. Let’s start new traditions, or at least recognize that this isn’t the year for all of our old ones. Maybe this year Thanksgiving is around a fire pit in the front yard or the Christmas gift exchange is a lively gathering over Zoom. It won’t be the same as years past, but if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we have to embrace the small joys. And perhaps, we do it knowing that the sooner we do, the sooner this will all be over.

There are many new things that we’ve embraced within our COVID ICU, too, and I know there will be much more to come in the weeks and months ahead. For starters, we take an additional five minutes to don new PPE before entering a patient’s room, each and every time, triple checking to make sure we have everything we need. We accept that there will be more shifts that need covering as our team uses great caution with any possible symptoms at home, or simply tries to piece together child care in the midst of a pandemic. And we know that now, for the most part, we will be our patients’ closest human contact for however long they stay in our care. We are holding a lot more hands, holding up a lot more cellphones and helping people say a lot more goodbyes than we’ve ever done before.

So, I’ll say it again with everything I have: Please think of others. This is not the time to stop wearing masks. It is not the time to question the doctors, nurses and scientists working around the clock to help protect us and figure out a vaccine.

This is the time to respect everything we’ve learned so far about the novel coronavirus, and to believe that together — in mind and spirit, if perhaps not in body — we can and will come out on the other side of this stronger and more empathetic than we were before. I believe in us, despite all that 2020 has thrown our way, and will think of you as I head into the hospital each day.

Denny Marshall (dennymarshall77@yahoo.com) is a 36-year veteran of the Mercy Medical Center intensive care unit (ICU) in Baltimore City.

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