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Sarah Vittone: Coronavirus highlights nurses' heroic efforts and their dedication to service

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We all know a nurse. Nurses are everywhere. Nurses have, and will continue to be, an integral part of our lives. They are with us on our most vulnerable days, cheer us on as we recover, or hold our hands and comfort us when we don’t.

Nurses have a duty to care – a call to service. The public puts its faith and trust in nurses, wisely so.

During this pandemic, all of our nurses rise up every day to meet new challenges, from our pediatric nurses now caring for adults, to nurses in our nursing homes not only looking after residents, but serving as their companions in this time of isolation. The pace of work has been unprecedented, as patients continue to fall ill to the virus – but nurses still come.

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They are fully present and in action – in hospitals, nursing homes and clinics – as well as on the phone, at the drive-up tent and out in the community. Nurses lead and advocate, take charge, respond and rise again. They take new approaches to tackle problems that are new and unique. They connect to each person, with a mission – to use a holistic approach to care with expert skills and to serve all with compassion.

Sarah Vittone, assistant professor at Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies and a clinical ethicist at the Edmund D. Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center.

Sarah Vittone, assistant professor at Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies and a clinical ethicist at the Edmund D. Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center.

In collaboration with physicians, nurses are crucial to the management and therapy of patients. They are adept in symptom science, and absolutely essential to the care of patients as the COVID-19 crisis wears on. Nurses are on the front line to stem the tide and make progress in the suppression of this deadly virus. Listen to your nurse: Stay home and wash your hands.

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We have learned a lot over these past 90 days of this pandemic, and there is much more to learn. Nurses continue to move toward patients, heroes in their own right, moving headfirst into the fire. It is courage and solidarity that give our nurses the strength to carry on.

While there is relief coming, we are not there yet; Many hospitals are full, and we are still braving the storm. In places across the country where there is calm – hold fast and stay alert. There is hope; Research is underway to find treatments and vaccines.

Nurses are guided by their ethics to do good, to help patients be their best, to keep them from harm and to see that each patient gets the just and fair care they need. Nurses advocate for patients with respect and support each patient’s unique condition and resolve to survive. We are thus obligated in this reciprocal relationship to safeguard and protect our nurses, and all health care and essential workers. Some patients are recovering, and this brings hope. Patients are cheered by their nurses as they leave the hospital. And we should all cheer the nurses.

Keep the faith. We can all do this. Pray when needed. Be brave. And know that if you do get sick, there will be a nurse to greet you and to help you navigate this devastating illness. 

Nurses also comfort the dying. They bind their patients to their families over the Internet and phone and are ready in the spiritual moment, sometimes speaking the last words a dying patient hears. They hold the person’s hand, albeit with gloves on, and take on the role of becoming their patients’ loved ones. The distress and sorrow in these moments are incredibly powerful. Yet nurses ply resilience and press on.

Let me suggest how to help nurses in this difficult time.

First, stay well yourself. Keep your distance and, of course, wash your hands.

Second, keep all our health care teams protected, including everybody – from the physicians, the techs, the environmental services staff – virtually everyone in the health care industry. For that matter, keep all our community essential workers safe – the bus drivers, the grocery clerks and everyone keeping the community going. All are needed to keep us moving forward.

Third, if you are able, give to your local charities and support your neighbors. It will take a village to contain this pandemic.

Fourth, keep connected. Our reliance on one another is still strong, even when we are apart. Call or write. Take care of each other.

Fifth, cheer on our nurses, always, not just during National Nurses Week. Honk your horns and blink your lights. Ring bells. Tie a ribbon around your door, your tree or anything nurses can see. Make masks and wear them.

Sixth, and finally, keep the faith. We can all do this. Pray when needed. Be brave. And know that if you do get sick, there will be a nurse to greet you and to help you navigate this devastating illness.

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I am inspired by our Georgetown students, alumni and nursing colleagues who have offered their own messages of hope and compassion, in the Jesuit tradition of cura personalis, or care for the whole person.

For every nurse who is in the fight and for those who are ready and willing to join – believe in yourselves and be strong. Stay true to yourself. Our hope and faith are with you all.

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