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A Fear of Firsts

Jenifer Veloso, a We Are Kathy editor, worked as a dedicated trauma nurse in the ER of a level 1 trauma center for four years. Recently in the middle of a pandemic, she accepted a job in the regional infectious containment unit at University of Michigan Hospital.

Photo by: Miryea Fajardo

It is the night before what feels like I am deploying to war. The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is currently wreaking havoc on the world around us. It’s so weird to drive in the streets. It feels like a lazy Sunday morning with this eerie air of quiet. Everything feels gray, cloudy and so unsure. There’s been a lot of major life changes recently in my life, but this one feels like it’s going to take the most courage. 

COVID-19 is a virus that attacks the ACE inhibitors in your lungs, destroying the lining of the organs. It then leads to a high risk for bacterial infection and ultimately ventilator support to prevent death. After my last role as a nurse, I thought I had decided that photography was going to be the dream I chased with all of my heart. And essentially, I have been. I had so many exciting gigs and sessions scheduled in the next few weeks. And I was very excited for them and the creativity they would bring me. I was going to photograph my friend giving birth. I was going to photograph a Detroit chef celebrate opening day for the Tigers in the Belt. And I was going to photograph a Michigan congresswoman speak for an International Women’s Day celebration in Flint. I say that not as a pity party, but a reminder to myself that in the future those things are still on the horizon.

In the meantime this medical crisis continues to play out. Grocery stores have barely any meat left. People are hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer. I just can’t believe that if I have kids one day, that will be part of the story. However, there is this other historical story unfolding right now too. The story of the world coming together behind scientists, doctors, nurses and first responders. The groups of people who have been serving their communities for centuries are now being called to fight an invisible war against this current pandemic. 

I was on Instagram a few days ago and a friend posted that a nursing recruiter is in desperate need of finding nurses to help out the cities being hit the hardest right now. It felt like the biggest impulse, and there was no way to stop myself from saying, “I’ll do it.” I couldn’t watch my friends at work struggle anymore while I was at home. I had to be a part of the solution. Sidewalk chalk, meditation, yoga and grounding myself again have been great, but I know it is time. 

I took a crisis registered nurse spot at the University of Michigan Hospital in the intensive care unit. Everything has fallen into place quickly. I should be in bed sleeping and resting before the big first day. Why do firsts of anything feel so hard? First day of school, first day of college, first date. I've been listening to Brené Brown’s podcast, “Fucking First Times” to get in a good headspace. Let’s be honest, many of us are having our first pandemic, and this shit sucks. Navigating this storm is showing the world what we are all really made of. 

Former clothing designers are making masks for health care workers. General Motors is switching over from cars to making ventilators. This is history in the making. There’s a first for everything, and it’s really hard. I was listening to the Daily about a month ago, when I heard a CDC director state this pandemic will “Feel like the spanish influenza. Every person will be able to say they knew at least one person who died from this.” 

I was drinking my morning coffee when I heard that and have not been able to get it out of my head ever since. When I see the death number in Italy, I think, “They were right.” When I hear that hospitals one by one in Detroit are getting overwhelmed with treating the infected, I think, “They were right.”

What else will “they” be right about? Will we flatten the curve of the outbreak and keep the healthcare field from falling? Am I about to work the hardest eight weeks of my life? Will anyone I know become critically ill? So many questions and only time will tell us the truth. But “This too shall pass, like all things must.”

All these little sayings to spread hope used to feel cheap, but I cling on to them during meditation. I wrap my heart in the word from my close ones when they say, “I love you.” I don’t know what the next few weeks will hold, but I do know it will be an honor to stand by other nurses and take care of our community who so desperately need us. I do know that life is the only thing worth fighting for, because we get only one chance in this crazy world. It is worth helping people fight to stay here and enjoy another sunrise with their family. 

To say I am not absolutely terrified would be a lie. I drove past Aldi’s grocery store and cried seeing the fear in the parking lot. It was packed. People rushing and running for food like the world was ending. I don’t want to be far from Tommy or our sweet dog Vesta. I don’t want to miss lunch walks with my friend Sarah, but I know these are short term absences. I know that if nurses, physicians, scientists and first responders don’t fight today, so many people won't have a tomorrow. That is what I know. 

Here’s to the summer days I know we are all dreaming of. We fight for today because we dream of tomorrow. Life is so sacred, beautiful and magical. Cheers to many more days together when this is all over with. Be brave, be strong, and love the ones who are sacrificing so much. We need you guys more than ever.

A picture of happier days at work.

Written by: Jenifer Veloso

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