“Shocking on three!”
“One, I’m clear. Two, you’re clear. Three, everybody clear.”
Applause erupted from my colleagues in the room. “Congratulations. You have now obtained Return of Spontaneous Circulation. Well, done!” said the AHA-certified trainer.
It was July 2019. I’ve had my Bachelors Degree in Nursing for 6 years, and this day, I renewed my American Heart Association (AHA) certification as an Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) provider, a pre-requisite to Dialysis training.
Back then, I’ve actually just quit my lax desk job, which provided benefits, weekends off, and insurance, to return to ‘the Nursing arena.’ I had a thorough plan. In fact, I’ve just applied for training and certification in Dialysis. In a year, I told myself, I’d apply to be a Certified Renal Nurse (CRN) and get a safe and stable job at a hemodialysis clinic.
Little did I know that life had other plans.
On the Other Side of the Bed Rail during COVID-19
My friend, Sally, (not her real name) is only about 30––a smart and capable nurse, with a confidence that awed me, optimism that inspired me, and warmth that affected both patients and colleagues.
She has a loving fiancé and her whole life ahead of her. Fortunately, she’s now being discharged from the hospital, finally testing negative from Sars-Cov-2, the novel coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.
How’d she get it? In late February, one of our patients died from complications stemming from being infected with this novel coronavirus. That patient of ours was also only in his early 30’s.
She and I worked per-diem Hemodialysis Nurses for a few dialysis centers. But time came that I favored taking shifts at one center, while Sally favored another.
It just so happened that the center Sally chose was where she would later contract the virus. She and the rest of the regular staff that continued to work there were all placed in a 14-day quarantine.
After a while, Sally developed complications that would merit confinement at a hospital. She doesn’t detail to me how difficult it’s been, but as a nurse myself, I can imagine, at least, what this means psychologically.
Who would have known that a global pandemic would hit and throw everyone’s plans into discourse?
Do you know what it’s like to be a nurse on the other side of the bed rail? When everything, it seems, falls apart, and the hero’s cape loses meaning?
Of the over 6,000 cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines as of this time of writing, almost 2,000 are healthcare workers. In world estimates, aren’t the numbers of healthcare professionals affected already in the hundreds of thousands?
While several local governments have stepped up to provide for health workers, I can’t express enough my frustration and fears as colleagues of mine are seemingly left for dead on the frontlines like a battlefield.
A Profession Bullied by Its Country
My profession is an oppressed profession long-bullied by its country. My people are an oppressed people long before the pandemic.
In all its glory that mesmerized even me, of course, the profession is not without its own flaws.
Up till now, there have been issues of nursing bullying not just in one country but several. According to Dr. Renee Thompson’s Series on Nurse Bullying, nurses are of an oppressed profession.
She writes, “While nurses are held accountable for outcomes, they are still paid by the hour; have to commit to a swipe-in and swipe-out schedule; and are afforded minimal or no representation at decision-making tables in their workplaces.”
“Feelings of frustration, coupled with an increasingly complex and stressful job, can create environments where nurses “take it out” on each other.”
In the Philippines, it’s mostly the same. I have a cousin who is an ICU nurse and works the COVID area and she still gets bullied on the regular.
However, to add fuel to the fire, the greater source of oppression and bullying the profession gets is from its government.
It’s not enough that we are lacking in Personal Protective Equipment and hospital beds like every other county in the world. Our healthcare workforce, primarily nurses, has been mistreated by the government for so long.
Cries for higher wages and compensation have fallen on deaf ears.
If not for this pandemic, the work, as I wrote in my “resignation letter” after 10 months of non-paid volunteer work as a nurse at a hospital that will remain nameless, it’s a thankless job.
There are many ways in which this country has bullied nurses in the past and more so in the present.
Many administrations have turned a blind eye on “volunteerism” and hospitals taking advantage of nurses. In other countries, nursing students are paid for their service or at least given an allowance. Here, it is the other way around. Institutions pay hospitals to allow their students (and clinicians) to offer their services.
Isn’t it ironic?
The trainings I mentioned I had earlier, as most trainings required to continue in this profession, are paid for by us nurses––this is regardless whether or not we are employed by a hospital or institution.
Despite it now being a requirement to “renew” our professional licenses––the one we studied so hard for––we need to pay out-of-pocket to get credentials for licensure we need for the hospital that employs us to keep us. Hospitals need nurses. Is it difficult to sponsor the training for your own employees?
Just recently, the current administration implemented a ban on nurses leaving the country to return to their work abroad regardless if said nurses already have contracts or have been working outside the country for years? Although, the ban has since been relaxed, let it forever be ingrained in history the failure to dispel the cruelty of this country to its nursing workforce.
I’m saying this not to belittle or ridicule my country or the profession. This is just what I hate about being a nurse in my country.
In 2016, amidst axing of over 6,000 doctors and nurses in proposed national budget, Dr. Carl E. Balita, in an open-letter on social media wrote that the Philippine Health Care System remains problematic, all while the nurses in the Philippines are being oppressed. Most nurses remained unemployed or moved to an alternative mode of income.
I was in clinical process outsourcing for over 2 years prior to quitting in June of last year. I feel like opportunities were not made possible for me, even after earning my Bachelor’s Degree, until I concurred the money to enter into training that would help me land stable employment in my profession.
But even as I complain, as a nurse, when the curtains are drawn, and the glass does not shatter but my heart does, I come to realize time and again that my life is not my own.
Whenever I felt disheartened in my profession, I like to recall one of my favorite movie lines: “Anyone can take a life. But to give life, that is true power!”
While this pandemic crisis is an eye-opener to many, it is a great deal of an eye-opener especially to frontliners––especially to colleagues of mine in the ICU who come face-to-face with infected-victims of the pandemic every single day.
And so, yes, there’s a lot that happens behind the glass windows of the ICU.
Commemorating colleagues who have died and will die in our stead, whichever country you belong, I implore that you remember us, not only in times like this pandemic.
Let me remind you, real heroes don’t even wear capes.
(c) Copyright 2020 Reese Qu on Booksie. All rights reserved.
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(Featured Photo: Oh Young-jun cares for critically ill patients infected with the novel coronavirus in a negative-pressure isolation ward.(Oh Young-jun / “Nursing Story”))