We stood 6 feet apart, straddling the red Xs taped to the floor. The hospital cafeteria, typically bustling in the middle of the day, was populated with only a few staff members. There were no visitors, no distracted family members, and very few of the usual ancillary staff. We both wore scrubs and surgical face masks; her hair was pulled into a high ponytail. And though the overall feeling within the walls of the hospital was heavy with anticipation of what was to come, of how bad it may or may not be, there was a curious sense of camaraderie. Those of us still there were friendly and chatty.
“Kind of a strange reality,” she said to me. Her brown eyes crinkled at the edges signaling the smile her surgical mask hid.
I nodded agreement. “I miss normal,” I said.
She was pretty and her voice was familiar, yet wearing a mask and scrubs, I couldn’t quite place her.
“Have a good day,” she said. “And don’t forget to wash your hands!”
It wasn’t until I was paying for my food that all of the clues came together. She was the CNO of the hospital. I’d had conversations with her before, but she was always dressed fashionably, in lovely dresses and pants, and preferring heels to sensible tennies. I flat out had not recognized her.
Our world is distorted right now. Our reality has been transformed. Things I knew and counted on, some of which I was even bored by, are altered to the point of being unrecognizable. The discomfort I feel is more than missing what was, it is grief and loss mixed in with a bit of trepidation. What will our new world look like?
Now more than ever how we communicate with our co-workers and our patients is challenged. As nurses we feel this in ways I venture to say no other healthcare provider does. We are the ones who provide the most hands-on care, literally and figuratively. We communicate by touch, by close proximity, and by a smile or an expression of concern. Those things are gone now, and I miss them. Because of COVID-19, instead of leaning in, we may feel more comfortable leaning out. Dr Fauci says we may never go back to innocently shaking hands when we meet. It may be a long while before we greet co-workers without the cover of a mask.