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Lauren Marconi

“I can’t believe it has been a year since we have been on lockdown, and it feels like the longest year of doing everything correctly, from social distancing to wearing masks. I started nursing school at Penn in June 2020 while studying completely online.

I was both fearful of how the virus was affecting people in so many ways and was nervous about learning nursing on an online platform, yet I was proud that I was taking on the challenge anyway in such a unique time period.

In December, I decided it was part of my responsibility to take part in the fight against the COVID pandemic by working in a medical ICU that was converted to a COVID ICU. The first day on the job, I performed postmortem care on two patients who had died from COVID. There is no getting your feet wet in this setting and testing the waters– it is a dive in headfirst kind of experience. I knew what I was signing up for, and I wanted to help, but I would be lying if I said that I knew how absolutely terrifying, heartbreaking, and distressing the COVID ICU is for both patients and healthcare workers alike. I was personally struggling with being fearful of contracting the virus and bringing it home to my family.

At first, you worry if you are wearing your PPE correctly. But then, you start to get a little more comfortable. You start to meet patients who aren’t sedated and intubated. These are the ones you bond with, who are scared out of their minds of dying, but you tell them you aren’t afraid of them and you get to hold their hand or maybe shed a tear with them. For others who can’t speak and aren’t aware, it’s the extra time you spend caring for them by rubbing their hand or speaking to them anyway because maybe they can hear you. You tell them they’re not alone and you set up an iPad for their families to see them.

One day, I was in an enhanced respiratory precaution room and noticed an elderly man who had pictures of him and his family celebrating his birthday with a big birthday cake and of a card his granddaughter wrote to him telling him she missed him and wanted him to come home. It made me cry looking from those items to the person in front of me who seemed so lifeless. It just isn’t fair. That could be my grandfather lying there. I hope and pray all the people I’ve seen are able to get better, but I’m always afraid they won’t. Everyone wants to feel connected and to feel alive. I’m so sorry to all of those who have felt the despair of being lonely and scared. I am just so sorry.”

To submit your own story, visit www.nursing.upenn.edu/humans.