Updated: May 1, 2020
So this is 2020, The Year of the Nurse. The Year of the Frontline Heroes.
Who knew I would be starting my nursing career in the midst of a global pandemic?
You could say I was a nontraditional nursing school applicant. After graduation, I worked in specialty coffee for five years. Working in the hospitality business shaped me in so many ways. The most important lesson I learned that carried over into nursing? My passion is people.
Nursing school taught me so much about myself - my limits and how far I could be pushed before I broke. There were many times I felt I had reached my breaking point. But here I am, grateful for the journey, stronger for it, and remembering why I am doing what I do. I have the privilege of caring for other human beings during their most vulnerable moments. I hold on to these lessons now, working on the frontline.
Nursing is boots-on-the-ground, in-the-trenches work, with our patients often trying to reverse the effects of the social determinants of health. I am acutely aware of this reality now, given how COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting communities of color. I want to assure my patients: We will care for you. We will fight for you. We will be your advocate.
Discrimination has also been personal. What is spreading faster: COVID-19, or the racist vitriol aimed at Asians?
I am the child of immigrants. Despite being born here, my first language is Cantonese. As I grew up and switched to mostly speaking English, my ability to speak Cantonese slowly disappeared. As an adult, I’ve been trying to reconnect with this part of my life, hoping to represent and serve as a nurse for the Cantonese-speaking community.
With the virus’s spread, there has been a marked spike in racist assaults against Asians in the US. I am careful to say Asian instead of Asian American because the perpetrators make no distinction between Asian faces who identify as Americans and those who don’t. We are all fair game.
I’m tired and not just from the growing number of COVID-19 specimens we collect daily. I’m tired because I keep seeing stories of Asian Americans attacked and harassed in the streets. I’m tired because I hear Trump refer to SARS-COV-2 as the “Chinese Virus.” I’m tired because my husband is worried about me using the train by myself to come volunteer due to the racism and xenophobia aimed at Asian faces.
Countless Asian American clinicians are working on the frontlines of this pandemic. We are working to protect the health of the American people, yet our folks continue to be targeted. We continue to be seen as the perpetual foreigner. When will we finally prove that we’re American, too?
No more of this.
No more because racist jokes lead to hate speech which lead to violence. Stand in solidarity with Asians in America. Be an ally and don’t contribute to the hateful ignorance
I’ve been doing a lot of reflection during social distancing. Being a nurse is as much a part of my identity as my name and my heritage. The safety and well-being of others is a priority of mine, regardless of whether I’m dressed in scrubs or jeans and a t-shirt. Disregard for the well-being of others will always be met with opposition from me.
I will build meaningful relationships wherever I go, in whichever role I occupy because...well, I’m me. It’s my nature to do this regardless of how long our relationship may last. However brief the time I am in someone’s life, I want to be a source of light in a sea of uncertainty. I won’t ever pretend to hold all the answers, but I promise to be present and hold your hand through whatever darkness you are going through.
That’s what nurses do.
We need to lean on each other in the coming weeks - and this isn’t just for healthcare workers. All frontliners, you are just as essential as those in medicine and nursing. We all have a role to play. Be there for each other. Take care of each other. Protect each other.
It’s going to be all hands on deck.
I want to end with these words and a call to action. Somebody in recent weeks told me I looked like Rosie the Riveter while I was performing COVID-19 tests. It was not my intention to sport her likeness (I wore my bandana to tame my out-of-control baby hairs). On my way home it dawned on me that this is exactly what a modern-day Rosie the Riveter looks like.
She has the imprint of an N95 mask etched on her cheekbones, a bruise starting to bloom on the bridge of her nose. She is Asian. She is Latinx. She is First Nations. She is Black. She is White. She can be him or them.
This is wartime, people. There aren’t guns or deployment of our armed forces overseas, but there is suffering and death with even more to come. I say this not to stoke fear, but instead to galvanize you into action.
Healthcare workers are here to protect the health of the public, but we cannot be asked to do this without the necessary safeguards such as proper PPE. Failure to protect the protectors is unsustainable. I have friends who resort to making their own N95 mask because their hospital simply does not have enough supplies to adequately distribute them. I want to emphasize: No one’s life matters more than your own or your family’s. Illness and injury are occupational hazards, but we are not sacrificial lambs. This is a reminder for myself, too. We’ll do our job, but we must do it as safely as we possibly can in a pandemic.
To everyone, times are tough right now. This crisis has changed our lives in different ways, but all of us are affected nonetheless. Life seems to be standing still, but it’s not. Life goes on, and we must too 💛