This story was collected as a part of the 2020 Collecting Initiative
Was it Worth It?
By Arielle Brimacombe
The following is a post I made on my Facebook account reflecting on working in the Covid-19 units for approximately 5 months straight, from late March to early September at Jackson Memorial Hospital as a physical therapist. I was the first physical therapist in the unit and volunteered my time during our two surges. I returned back to working the trauma floors at Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
I apologize for the run on sentences and the juxtaposition of all my emotions. I tend to leave writing to the writers and novelists of our world, but lately I am finding solace in chronicling my experience. It gives a finality to the last 5 months as nothing else really can.
It’s all more bitter than sweet, this leaving. Which is strange to say as I always imagined the end of this, or rather the end of my direct involvement on the Covid floors would be more…. celebratory? Exciting? In my daydreams, I imagined we’d fight the battle, win, and then the battle would be done. A heroic cheer would go up across the nation as we threw our surgical caps and face shields in the air and chanted, “We did it! We won!” Instead, it carries on. Lower numbers, yes, but the trenches are still wrought with the tears of continuous loss of life.
Volunteering to work the Covid floors has been a truly humbling experience for me. The decision to not tell my parents the extent of Sean and mine’s involvement came easy, to continue with it for almost 5 months was hard. It also involved holding back on telling others so the information wouldn’t be accidentally passed on to my anxiety-ridden, lovely parents. To worry is to love – that’s the Trujillo’s. I wouldn’t change that.
But what also came with that was limited vocalization on my experience while it was happening. It was staying (mostly) silent as family members theorized the true validity of masks and social distancing. Some asked me, “I know you’re not in there because you’re a PT, but do you know how bad it is?” And I bit my tongue instead of answering. This never-ending frustration from how my career is constantly misunderstood and presumed to be uninvolved in many sub fields of medicine is a constant disappointment.
Nurses are the true backbone of this pandemic; they do the exhaustive daily work for their patients and we need to never forget that after this is all done. If it ever will be. But rehab services are there, too. Working in the shadows of nurses and physicians. When we celebrate our healthcare heroes we forget those helping in the dark. But there are many of us there saying, “Let me help you. We know these days are long, what can we do to help?” Let’s not forget those in respiratory therapy, environmental work, care techs, diet and nutrition, maintenance, social work and case management, transport, security, as well as physical, occupational, and speech therapy. They’re in those hallways and in those rooms too.
As I go, I ponder where my contribution goes. There have been many moments when I’ve thought, “Am I crazy for doing this?” “Did I actually help?” “Was it worth it?” I wonder if any of the patients will remember me or their experience of laughing, dancing, and singing during their hospitalization. For some, it turned out to be their last dance, but for the many who made it to the exit doors of our negative pressure floors, I hope they can remember how much we all tried to make this as much of a healing experience as possible. I know, as with all rotations, my memories will meld together into one kaleidoscopic view of the experience. E’s purple hair and nails will meld into C mourning the death of her mother. D’s jokes will mix with S’s stubbornness. My mind will mix them and store them away for another time.
I’m grateful to Rachel, Brady, Bill, and Brandi and so many others. We went in and we did our best. It was a dream to go to work with each of you. Your compassion for our patients is amazing and makes me a better therapist. Thank you for the honor of working beside you.
And of course, Sean who supported this idea from the beginning. I’m grateful I can come home to you every night. You are what keeps me laughing and keeps me sane.
I wonder what the history books will say of this horrible year – how not one person wasn’t affected in some way, be it through a loss of a job, a dream, or a loved one. I wonder how we’ll teach our lessons from this to future generations. What will we keep to remember? I know that those I worked with/on will be able to reflect on the sweat, tears, PPE, frustrations, and loss. But I also hope they remember the singing and the dancing.