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Life with a Nurse in Bend

Living with someone who works in the ICU and longing for the normal, monotonous routines of the past



Even before COVID-19 arrived in Deschutes County, St. Charles Medical Center attempted attempted to be preemptive, asking its nurses to pick up extra shifts if necessary.

Niki, my wife and a nurse in the ICU, was torn. Like so many other families, we had already canceled our spring break trip. Since we now spend most of our time at home, she has extra time. Being a natural caregiver, she wants to help out as much as possible, but on the flip side, being exposed to virus more often also runs the risk of bringing it home to her two daughters and husband. 

Luckily, the confirmed cases in Bend have remained low and her exposure has been limited. St. Charles takes extra precautions and looks out for its employees’ well-being.

Still, every time she arrives to work I text to ask, “Do you have a ‘patient’?” Sometimes I think I get more anxious than she does.

The author's two daughters and wife, wearing the "new normal" garb. - JOSHUA SAVAGE
  • Joshua Savage
  • The author's two daughters and wife, wearing the "new normal" garb.

“So far, so good,” is the usual answer. We all hope the curve flattens before the virus reaches too many of us, but deep down we know it's only a matter of time. 

Bend feels safer. So much open space, relatively secluded, and rural compared to big areas like New York, our family practices social distancing fairly well, leaving home only to buy groceries, to bike or run in sparsely crowded areas and to support local businesses from time to time. Crux gives 30% off to healthcare workers and so we stocked our fridge with IPAs. 😊 

Even though she hasn't taken care of many COVID patients, the stigma associated with the hospital and caregivers pervades our everyday life. I can only imagine those health care professionals working in the hardest-hit areas.

Over the last month, shifts at the hospital have become more intense for her. She leaves for work earlier. She comes home at least half an hour later than usual because she showers at work. I can see she's more exhausted. Taking every precaution, her scrubs stay in a plastic bag outside on the porch until they are washed separately from other clothes. Her skin is drier than ever from so much washing.

At home, the usual greetings of hugs and kisses have disappeared. Any normal, everyday sign of affection involving touch has become almost nonexistent. Whether she realizes or not, she keeps her distance, even from my daughters and me. Her mind races, as if still stuck at the hospital. She sometimes has trouble sleeping, anxious about the upcoming shift and worried about the patients. She knows other nurses, both here and back in our hometown of Memphis, who have significantly changed their lifestyle, some separated completely from their immediate family.   

Our relatives and neighbors always have questions. “What’s going on? Is the hospital intense? How many more patients this week?” Our family seems taboo. I mean, if anyone is likely to carry the virus, it’s her, right?

How quickly our minds changed about COVID-19 after the effects hit home. Not the physical symptoms, but the mental ones. Like almost everyone, this event broke our daily routines. Our reactions to each other have changed. It's been a wakeup call, but also shown us that the small things we take for granted really matter most.

Social distancing from others is one thing, but from family? It just doesn’t feel right. 

Mom working more often and keeping her distance has been challenging, especially with our daughters not in school. Affectionate kids, they still like to cuddle. As cool as I am, they get tired of being with Dad constantly.

Sofiah and Kaia don’t voice it, but I think they are proud of their mom for being on the front lines. I know I am. But what I really know is that I want my wife back. My kids want to kiss and snuggle their mom. All of us just long for our normal, monotonous daily routine to return…

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