Eleanor Feldman Barbera
Eleanor Feldman Barbera

I live in New York City, the COVID-19 epicenter of the U.S. There are long lines for the few open supermarkets, the parks are closed and the nursing homes in New York are now mandated to accept COVID residents from local hospitals.

I’m in touch with psychologist colleagues from around the area. Some facilities have personal protective equipment for their staff regardless of whether or not they have known COVID cases; others are less prepared and less open with their staff about the coronavirus, increasing the anxiety level of their team members. 

I was relieved to see the McKnight’s headline last week, “Trump wants masks on all nursing home workers, temperature checks for all, and separate COVID-19 units.” Finally, I thought to myself. Perhaps facilities in other parts of the country will be spared what we’re going through in New York, where the regulations trailed the virus and 1 in 4 facilities have COVID residents as of last week’s reports. It is, in a word, grim.

To get through, I’m trying to focus on being of service, when I can focus at all.

I’ve been issued an N95 mask and a face shield, and I receive a daily surgical mask. I purchased a cane that folds out into a seat so I can maintain a safe distance from my residents and avoid sitting on anything in their rooms. I put my phone in a plastic pouch that hangs from my neck, for easy access and easy cleaning. I obsessively sanitize my hands. At the end of the day, I wipe down anything reusable. 

Despite my frightening garb, my patients are happy to see me. “I’ve been waiting for you!” one man exclaimed. “I have to talk to you.” 

Another man spoke to me politely for a few minutes before realizing who I was, “Are you Mrs. Feldman?” he asked. Close enough. “YES, THAT’S WHAT I’VE BEEN TELLING YOU,” I replied, shouting through my masks. A smile briefly erased the worry in his face. 

Putting my smartphone on speaker, I helped someone contact a friend, another a daughter. I showed a man how to FaceTime with his wife. “You look like you put on weight,” she told him. He denied it.

One lady fretted about items missing after her move from another unit. I went up to her old floor and ransacked the nursing station until I found them. “Thank you!” she said, clutching the small plastic bag I handed her, “I’ve had these nail clippers for 60 years.”

A deaf resident dictated a letter for me to mail to his sister. “What you’re doing is worth a million dollars,” he told me, “We’ll never forget you.”

My coworkers and I chat briefly in the hallways. “How are you holding up?” we ask each other. “Getting through day by day,” is the steady reply. We inquire about missing staff members, mourn the residents who didn’t make it and celebrate the ones who tested negative. “Thank goodness,” we say, “I couldn’t take it if something happened to him or her.” 

But we have and we must. 

Day by day, we’ll continue our slog through the pandemic, showing up, knowing that what we’re doing is worth a million dollars, whether or not anyone tells us so. (But it’s sure nice to hear.)

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is an Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is a Bronze Medalist for Best Blog in the American Society of Business Publication Editors national competition andGold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category in their Midwest Regional competition. To contact her for speaking engagements and/or content writing, visit her at EleanorFeldmanBarbera.com.