This year marks the bicentenary of British nurse Florence Nightingale’s birth, but with the grim reality of nurses dying on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, the celebrations will have to wait.
Nurses are especially disappointed they won’t be able to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Nightingale’s birthday on May 12 as part of National Nurses Week, Dr. Marketa Houskova, executive director of the American Nurses Association\California, told The Epoch Times.
But due to the pandemic, social distancing, and a ban on public gatherings, this year’s National Nurses Week events—scheduled for May 6-12, and themed “Year of the Nurse and Midwife”—have been postponed.
“We’re all really, really sad that we don’t get to do that,” said Houskova. “It’s more important to ensure hospitals are able to care for patients.”
Nightingale—who fought tirelessly against infectious diseases during the Crimean War in the 1850s and is considered the godmother of modern nursing—would have been especially proud of the way today’s nurses are battling against COVID-19. Since 1993, National Nurses Week festivities begin each year on May 6 and end on her birthday, in her honor.
This year, in recognition of their contributions, the week has been expanded to National Nurses Month, Houskova said.
But even though this year’s celebratory events have been postponed, people can still show their appreciation for nurses, said Houskova—by honoring the shared struggles and challenges they are facing due to the pandemic.
Showing Appreciation for Nurses
In the last 200 years, nursing has grown into an evidence-based, scientifically focused professional practice, Houskova said—so there is plenty to celebrate, even if nurses have to wait until next year for their big party.
To honor their efforts, many restaurants—including Starbucks, Burger King, KFC, Krispy Kreme, and Dunkin Donuts—are offering free meals or discounts to nurses for the week of May 6-12.
“Companies are doing this for nurses. They are supporting, helping, recognizing, and thanking nurses,” said Houskova. “We are very happy for any of those recognitions, because there is nothing that nurses love more than coffee and doughnuts, or some good food.”
She added that people can also support nurses by donating to the Coronavirus Response Fund for Nurses, created by the American Nurses Foundation to help nurses in financial distress.
“This is a great way for the public to help nurses, through the fund,” she said.
And even though celebratory events have been canceled, people can still show their appreciation for nurses this week by staying healthy, Houskova said.
“If you really want to help and support us, and show us that you respect us, then follow the recommendations from state and federal agencies,” she said. “I think that would be the most important part.”
Nurses are also encouraging people to call their friends and families to make sure everyone is OK, and has access to food, shelter, and security.
“Those are essential determinants of health,” she said, “and they have direct consequences on health care, health, and well-being.”
And don’t forget to exercise, she added.
“You can go outside, you can go for a walk, you can get some exercise—but make sure you have a minimum of six feet between you and somebody who is also walking on the street,” she said. “We have to be smart, and we have to be responsible in our behavior.”
Nurses Facing Fears
Like others throughout society, nurses are facing many uncertainties, both professionally and personally, due to the pandemic.
While some nurses on COVID-19 floors are working long hours, many aren’t—because elective surgeries have been canceled in many hospitals.
“In the meantime, nurses are being put on hold,” Houskova said.
“If something doesn’t change soon, the fear is this: that nurses will be in dire financial situations, along with everybody else in our society.”
Those nurses who work in hospitals on COVID-19 floors constantly worry about contracting the disease and spreading it to their families.
Many nurses have isolated themselves in hotel rooms, rented homes, or are living in recreational vehicles (RVs), Houskova said. Others are isolating themselves in separate rooms in their own homes, after working long hours and commuting.
“They don’t want to increase the likelihood that they could put their family in danger,” she added.
Many nurses have set up tents, or some type of washing station, outside their homes, where they change clothes. They then go inside their homes to shower—and change again—before entering the main living areas.
Houskova added, “When you’re working in a hospital, and if you’re working on a COVID-19 floor and you do take care of COVID-19 patients, you go home, and all you worry about is, ‘Am I keeping my family, my parents, my children, and my loved ones safe?’”
‘Nurses Are Terrified’
Nurses need to be able to freely speak out about what they are experiencing on the job, Houskova said. But many who attempt to speak out about the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or unsafe conditions have been hit with gag orders, silencing them, or are simply afraid of losing their jobs.
“It’s really difficult for me to even reach out to our members and ask them to talk publicly. I think that nurses are terrified,” Houskova said.
“Nobody wants to speak publicly. Very few of them are willing to use their name, because they are worried about their license. They’re worried about their future. They’re worried about their careers.”
She added, “The fact that we are speaking out stems from our code of ethics. That’s part of our nursing education. That’s part of our nursing profession.”
In a recent national survey of more than 32,000 nurses conducted by the American Nurses Association (ANA), nearly 90 percent said they feared going to work for lack of protection.
More than half reported being short on or out of PPE, including surgical masks, face shields, filters, disposable gowns, goggles, and sanitizer. About 43 percent have made their own PPE, and more than a quarter of those surveyed said they have been “forced to create” their own surgical masks.
According to the survey, conducted between March 20 and April 10, about half of all nurses lack adequate training to conduct COVID-19 testing. And about 68 percent say they are working without the necessary nurse staffing.
Dr. Ernest J. Grant, president of the ANA, called the results of the survey “distressing.”
“It is our hope that the survey findings serve as both a wake-up call and an opportunity to make swift change for the future now, as we plan for a second surge and ongoing challenges in the years ahead,” Grant said in an April 24 media release.
“While there have been strides to deploy PPE and other critical aid to the front lines, we are still hearing reports from nurses that they continue to lack basic PPE,” he said. “And as a result, nurses don’t feel safe, and are concerned about spreading the disease to their patients and family members and becoming infected themselves.”
He added, “This is leading to extraordinary stress and exhaustion among nurses and other health care professionals.”
The ANA represents the interests of the nation’s 4 million registered nurses, the media release stated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 9,200 health care workers in the United States had tested positive for COVID-19 through April 9.
National Nurses United (NNU), the largest nationwide union and professional association for registered nurses, stated on April 30 that more than 60 nurses have died so far from the disease—though due to lack of testing, the number is likely higher.
Acts of Kindness
“Nurses have fantastic standing in the community, but with that trust, ethics, and honesty, comes huge responsibility, Houskova said.
“We speak out, and we advocate on behalf of our patients,” she said. “That’s what makes us so trustworthy, and so honored, and so trusted.”
Houskova is disheartened by social media trolls suggesting that nurses shouldn’t complain, because they “signed up for this.”
“We signed up to take care of our communities, and to take care of our patients,” she said.
She noted that other social media posts defended nurses, saying they didn’t sign up to fight a pandemic without PPE any more than American troops signed up for battle without protective gear and equipment.
“We have to work in a safe environment,” she said, stressing the need for more N95 respirator masks.
There have been many heartwarming stories of people supporting nurses, by making decorative cloth masks and showing their appreciation on social media.
“People have made signs, thanking nurses for their care,” she added.
But Houskova said one story in particular—of a kind neighbor helping a nurse—really touched her heart.
The nurse’s car wouldn’t start, and so the kind neighbor lent her his car, so she could get to the hospital and report for work. When the nurse returned home, she found the neighbor had replaced her car battery and filled up the gas tank.
Some people have even shared their federal relief funds with nurses.
“They’re actually sharing the money, and offering free gas for nurses,” she said. “It’s just wonderful to know that we are being recognized and appreciated for the fundamental and crucial work we do. There are so many different things that make us happy, and give us a warm feeling.”
So there is still plenty to celebrate throughout this month that honors them, even if nurses have to wait until next year for bigger festivities, Houskova said.
“They really do need to celebrate,” she added.
“If we can’t do it in 2020, we definitely need to do it in 2021,” she said. “I’m hoping we’ll all do better in 2021.”
Until then, the steadfast dedication of America’s nurses during this time of difficulty would make Florence Nightingale proud.
The Epoch Times refers to the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, as the CCP virus because the Chinese Communist Party’s cover-up and mismanagement allowed the virus to spread throughout China and create a global pandemic.