When I first transitioned to the ICU floor as a nurse, I began to have stress dreams about work. As is classic in stress dreams, there was always some situation I couldn’t handle, a doctor “giving me trouble,” or some other difficult predicament I had to navigate without the resources I needed. After about a year, as my confidence grew, these dreams subsided. When nurses new to the job ask if “those horrible or weird dreams” will stop, I assure them they will. Give it a year, I tell them. It’s normal to take home some stress from an intense job.
But now, after being a nurse for 10 years, the stress dreams have returned. I recently dreamed I was a charge nurse managing a full-capacity floor of critically ill patients. Because of increased COVID-19 numbers, nurses were filling staff shortages on our unit. They were overwhelmed and undertrained, and we lacked essential resources. It was my job to keep everyone safe and alive—and I was terrified these challenges would end up harming patients and staff. I awoke panicked and sweating. What was striking, though, was not my dream’s differences from reality but rather its similarities. My stress dreams now reflect my stressful reality.
On a daily basis I see and experience extreme emotions in the Intensive Care Unit. There are always too many patients or a shortage of staff or a lack of resources or issues getting the right staff to the right patients. People are upset about how the restrictions are ruining their lives, and the stress feels crushing. My body aches from the masks, lack of breaks, extra hours. My heart is heavy with patients who can’t see their loved ones or procedures delayed because staff are sick.
Seeing people as Jesus did
There is no quick and simple solution. This is life right now. But as a follower of Jesus, I am seeking to be light in a dark place. When I leave work and hear phrases like, “Life has to get back to normal sometime” or “It’s my right to not . . . ” or “This is just politics or money or fear mongering,” my head drops, and with tears in my eyes I whisper, “You just don’t know.”
Even if there is truth in such statements, what is the point? Is that the point Jesus would want us to focus on? When Jesus saw the crowds approaching him—full of sick, discouraged, weary people, from all walks of life,—he looked at them and had compassion on them. Even when he was weary himself, he met these people—in all their pain and fear and anger—with love and compassion (Matt. 9:36, Mark 6:34).
As Christ’s body, we should see the people, not an agenda. See the people and, as Jesus did, have compassion.
I have a front-line view of the discouragement and exhaustion that is a direct result of COVID-19. There’s no time to pick a side, no time to get political. People are hurting. A whole lot of people across any number of vocations are hurting and limping through life right now. Their families and friends are suffering for it. As Christ’s body, we should see the people, not an agenda. See the people and, as Jesus did, have compassion.
A stressful reality
My reality is filled with stress. However, this is also reality: the Lord is good and sovereign. He institutes governments and so we have no need to fear (Romans 13:1-2). He understands viruses, how an acute illness becomes chronic, how a body deteriorates and dies. He knows it all.
As we seek to follow Jesus’ example, let’s remember all those on the frontlines who are making sacrifices for the common good. Many of us are frustrated, exhausted, sick, and away from our families. But every day we are working long hours, caring for our patients. And believe me, we most desperately want this pandemic to end.
Normal is still far away. In the meantime, see the people and have compassion. People can’t pay their bills—help them financially. People can’t see their families—be their family from a distance. Prepare gift bags of snacks and treats for those who work extra hours. Take their dogs for an extra walk. Cry with them. Laugh with them. Support their spouses. Make sure kids have help with their homework. Try to resist the urge to lecture others with your opinions, because to those who are serving or suffering, callous words only increase the burden.
If we look for an excuse not to see or serve people, we’ll find one. So don’t. Just look around. Then be like Jesus and have compassion. Trust Jesus, love people, and please wear a mask.