Readers’ voices Laurie Loisel: When waiting is a feeling

  • Sydney Rackenberg-Loisel, who graduated from nursing school in December, at work in a hospital intensive care unit.   SUBMITTED PHOTO

Published: 5/3/2020 7:59:20 AM

The days are different now. For me, working from home, they are without the anchors. Gone are the markers of time, the social norms I’m accustomed to. I’m not setting the alarm, not showering before work, on occasion not even getting out of my pajamas before sitting at the desk to power up my laptop.

On work days and weekends both, there’s an overpowering feeling like I’ve never had before. The feeling is waiting, and I know waiting isn’t even a feeling — it’s an intransitive verb.

But for me during this pandemic, waiting is a feeling.

Waiting for what? That’s the mystery. Definitely not for anything good. The cliches are many: Waiting for the other shoe to drop comes to mind.

For sure, it’s waiting for something bad to happen, even while I know full well the bad has happened already and is happening still — in New York hospitals, at Boston Medical Center, the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, on a Detroit Transit bus.

The bad is here in full force. A friend’s father with COVID-19, declining the ventilator he needed, instead choosing hospice, where he died. This she told me on a wooded, sun-dappled path by the Mill River recently.

The bad is happening in hospitals everywhere, with doctors, nurses and other essential workers awaiting tidal waves they know they are not prepared for.

My daughter, a December, 2019, nursing school graduate, often calls me to talk on her commute home from her 12-plus hour intensive care unit shifts. Some evenings she’s in tears. There was the day the protocols changed three times in a day, the devastating shift where she learned no visitors would be allowed, even for patients who were dying. This made her think of her parents — what if she couldn’t see us if we were dying — prompting lectures on proper social distancing.

Once she called after stripping off her scrubs in the decontamination space she’d set up in the private hallway outside her apartment and then bathing, so exhausted she was unable to get out of the tub. Her boyfriend brought her dinner there.

Through no fault of anyone, the hospital is chaotic. The ICU was expanded and retrofitted with negative pressure rooms. Workers erected a coronavirus testing tent outside the hospital. Old schedules were scrapped and new schedules implemented so as to cluster shifts to minimize exposure and preserve the workforce.

My niece lives in Brooklyn, New York. She goes running wearing a mask her mom sewed her — the same pattern of the mask I wear when grocery shopping, which my sister mailed to me.

Every night at 7 p.m. my niece and her two roommates go out onto their balcony, joining others on the balconies all around them, using serving utensils to bang on pots, whooping and hollering for the people on the front lines. She sends video clips of these sessions to the family. Most of the time, they make me cry, thinking of my own formative years in gritty, scrappy, resilient New York, so vulnerable now, stricken and badly hurt, but so full of life, still so scrappy.

Several people in my family, including two nieces, a brother-in-law and my son have been laid off or furloughed in recent weeks.

My stepmother is now in hospice, for a non-COVID illness, in a facility where no visitors are allowed, so my sisters see her through a window in the dayroom, where attendants wheel her for brief visits.

As for my daughter, she’s been on the job for less than three months — the new coronavirus protocols hit a month in. Like so many health care workers, she’s scared, confused, overwhelmed.

“And I miss you guys,” she said, her voice hollow like a reed, after the first day she had to wear both mask and shield for an extended time. It was exhausting to suit up like that, and the mask hurt her nose and ears, making the indentations we’ve all now seen displayed in social media postings.

The next day after a good night’s sleep, her voice was much stronger.

Last month, she turned 26. I ordered a carrot cake from the gluten-free bakery a few blocks from her apartment, arranging for her boyfriend to pick it up curbside. That evening, we had our first Zoom family birthday party, friends, siblings, moms, an uncle, aunts and cousins from both sides of the family showing up in small rectangles on a screen. A better turnout than we typically have, actually.

A few days later, she pulled out her sewing machine, got out some fabric. Using a pattern she’d found on YouTube, she sewed pretty, floral scrub caps for herself and co-workers to wear underneath the protective gear.

They would protect their skin.

So many unprecedented events. So much rising to the occasion. So much waiting.

The days are different now.

Laurie Loisel, a former Gazette editor, lives in Northampton.

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