I want our front line medical workers to know they're heroes

Jessica had been a nurse for 15 years when her daughter, Zoe, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She shares how life has changed in the era of COVID-19 and why staying home is the best thing we can do for our front line medical workers.

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Jessica had been a nurse for 15 years when her daughter Zoe was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Today, the St. Jude mom is a director of compassionate care for a large health management organization. She shares how life has changed in the era of COVID-19 and why staying home is the best thing we can do for our front line medical workers.

Jessica with her daughter Zoe

Jessica with her daughter Zoe

My regular work is on hold right now and I'm helping where I'm most needed by my employer, which can shift rapidly considering how quickly things are changing with all of health care. This week I've been taking the nursing line triage calls.

I believe it's a wartime mentality throughout all of health care, no matter where you work. The crisis has united all health care professionals, regardless of role, in the sense that it’s all for one and one for all. We go where we’re needed. The call centers and triage centers are seeing a call volume that's pretty heavy, with people phoning in for anything and everything, including things not related to COVID-19.

What makes it easier is the kindness on the other end of the line. Despite whatever medical worries may have motivated them to reach out, the people I talk with have expressed gratitude on the telephone calls. I think they appreciate having someone to talk to. They appreciate the time with you. They thank you on the call.

My partner, Nurudeen, and I, while both in the medical profession, are able to work from home. If we were providing direct patient care, our children would have to stay at Grandma’s house and we would have to stay home, isolated from our children.

Olivia is home with us instead of at school, and Zoe is helping her with schoolwork and helping to get her set up on the computer with her teachers. Despite their 12-year age difference, I call them the “two most sisterly sisters who ever sistered.” Olivia was right there beside her older sister when Zoe went through proton beam radiation treatment at St. Jude in 2018. They’ve been best friends since Olivia was born, and this time together is not a hardship for them.

Zoe with her sister Olivia

Zoe with her younger sister, Olivia

I’m working in my office and Dad’s working in his office. Our pug dogs come and go as they please, keeping us all company throughout the day.

We actually stopped going out on March 3, and we asked my mom to stop going out and stop going to church. We’ve made only two essential trips for groceries, and we go out with masks and gloves. That’s how seriously we’re taking this.

For people working on the front line, their experience is very different. A lot of my friends still provide clinical care and it’s very high stress. Nonessential appointments have been canceled across the health care system. Health care providers are spreading out resources to deal with COVID-19 infections and keep everyone safe. A nurse who has no experience in the ICU may be asked to work there now because that’s where the need is. Many are separated from their own families for the time being so as not to cross contaminate. Some are sleeping in the family garage.

What’s really amazing is that doctors and nurses who are retired are volunteering to go back and provide clinical care. There are nurses boarding airplanes to go where the need is despite very high risk. They’re signing up because they have a commitment to patient greater good, to the health and well-being of mankind. You see that in health care workers.

At times like this, you do feel a little guilty if you’re not providing direct care. People in health care almost always have that first-responder mentality. Our instinct is to run toward the problem.

For us, Zoe is on steroids for the rest of her life because of her brain tumor and she’s considered part of that at-risk population group. We stay home for her, and we do what we can from home, including volunteering for assignments at work to help where the need is. I’ve started a Google doc listing needs in the community and people sign up to fill the needs, whether they be food or supplies.

Zoe’s doctor from St. Jude called us recently just to circle back on some notes from her last checkup and to see how she’s doing. It was one more example of his dedication and caring.

When this medical emergency passes, we’ll need to be the ones to heal the healers. They’ll be suffering from the natural grief that comes from day-to-day life changing so drastically. They may be experiencing some PTSD if they perceive that everything they’ve done and trained for wasn't enough. They might suffer if they’re not able to give their patients who have chronic conditions the close, ongoing support they’d like to give right now. We’ll need to be there for them.

I hope the public will follow the guidelines set by the CDC and stay home. Even if social distancing isn’t in place yet where you live, stay home and practice it anyway. Don’t wait. Wash your hands, limit going out as much as possible, and maintain that six-feet distance. Don’t go to the doctor unless it’s necessary and always call ahead.

I want our front line medical workers to know they’re heroes and everybody is praying for them. The nation is praying for them, the world is praying for them. Thank you for your sacrifice and keep saving the world.