How to support and celebrate nurses on the coronavirus front lines

Medical workers are on the front lines of the frightening coronavirus pandemic spreading around the globe, and doctors and nurses alike are being hailed as heroes. The cartoons with nurses joining the ranks of fictional superheroes are touching; the t-shirts with nurses flexing their muscles like Rosie the Riveter are inspiring. 

But nurses working to treat COVID-19 patients (or preparing for a future influx) don't necessarily need hero worship from their spouses, other family members and friends. An uninterrupted nap or someone else to run laundry could be far preferable.

» RELATED: What nurses should know about the coronavirus pandemic

For all the well-meaning world citizens who'd like to translate their admiration for nurses into thoughtful gestures, here are some suggestions from nurse spouses, friends and nurses themselves.

These are the top ways to support and celebrate nurses on the front lines of fighting COVID-19: 

Understand what they're up against. If your area is still on the part of the coronavirus curve where you don't have a good feel for what nurses are experiencing, this (translated to English by Nurse.org) Instagram post from nurse Alessia in Milan summed up the experience of nurses working where the virus is out of control:

"I am facing this sanitary emergency,” she wrote. “I too am scared, but not of going buying groceries, I am scared of going to work. I am scared my mask is not sticking properly, or that I touched it with dirty gloves by mistake, or maybe that lenses do not fully cover my eyes and something goes through. I am physically exhausted because personal protective equipment hurts my body, the white coat makes you sweat and after I dress myself I can't go to the bathroom or even drink for 6 hours. I'm psychologically tired, and just like me also all my coworkers, which have been working in this situation for weeks. But this will not prevent us from doing our job as we have always done."

Aaron Thompson is a cardiac technician based in Oakland, California, where as of March 24, 2020, a local hospital that had taken in coronavirus cruise patients was so low on supplies that it was asking nurses to cobble together their own protective gear. Thompson, who is great friends with a nurse co-worker who also hails from his native Tennessee, is seeing firsthand how nurses must "make masks and protective gear from whatever they have around, bandanas, etc., just to help protect themselves. Work is obviously mandatory unless you have symptoms or feel unwell and all us hospital workers have a long line of check points to get into the hospital every day."

Even in areas where health care and personal protective equipment shortages don't get that bad (if there are any), family and friends should realize nurses will be facing down dire health and emotional crises. They "will still be the ones showing up to work, the ones dealing with sweating through their shifts in their PPE, the ones risking exposure to care for anyone who does experience complications," nurse-mom blogger Chaunie Brusie wrote in Nurse.org, "They will be the ones calming patients who are genuinely fearful of what this virus can do to them, the ones watching when positive tests do come back, and the ones we will all turn to if the virus moves from something that is happening to 'other people' and into something that affects us or our loved ones." 

» RELATED: A coronavirus resource list for Georgia and Southeastern nurses

Do whatever you can to ease home life for your nurse spouse. Jane Fowler, whose wife is a nurse in small-city North Carolina, advised other spouses and even friends to do whatever they can to make life more comfortable and less threatening for nurses who have to work during the pandemic. "Personally, I'm keeping the home fires going," she explained. "I just look for what I can do for her. Do we have food? Are Ann's clothes washed? I pack her lunch. In a typical scenario, I'd be ordering pizzas, etc., but we're on lockdown so no can do. It's just day by day on what I can offer to support her, but I do everything I can."

And Fowler urged fellow spouses to be ready to listen. "Understand the level of fear and anxiety. I think it's important that I be there to understand when she talks about how scary this is for all the nurses."

Lock-down, shelter in place or quarantine. It's not a pay hike or even a pat on the back, but the best thing you can do for nurses who must work this pandemic is to stay home and socially isolate, even if you're not required by law. "While other jobs may get to make jokes about working from home, or dealing with their kids for two weeks, let’s keep in mind that nurses don’t have that luxury--and be respectful of any health measures that are recommended to try to ensure that nurses can continue to do their jobs safely," Brusie added. 

Her sentiment is echoed by friends to nurses across the country and around the world. "Staying home would be the biggest thing you can do," Oakland-based Thompson said. "And I would add to that not to come to the hospital at all unless it's absolutely essential--for example you're suffering life-threatening symptoms, not visiting a patient."

» RELATED: How to protect yourself against the coronavirus

Offer support for nurses with kids. This suggestion comes from nurse practitioner Helen Baker, who holds a doctorate of nursing and is a clinical instructor at Emory's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. Within the restrictions of social distancing, nurses could really use relief from the double burden of pandemic at work and child-care demands at home. "If you know nurses who also have caregiving responsibilities, particularly now that schools are closed, see if you can do some of their work such as shopping, teaching, babysitting, or cleaning," she advised.

Voice your support for frontline coronavirus responders. "Contact your political officials to support efforts to increase PPE and provide other supports to health care workers and ask them to reduce barriers to practice for APRNs and physician's assistants," Baker urged. 

» RELATED: 5 former patients on why they're grateful for nurses who treated them

Take over the at-home watch for COVID-19 spread. When your spouse or household member works as a nurse, it's great if you're able to monitor the household hand-washing, social distancing, dishes and other cross contamination issues. That way, they don't have to be on high alert when they've spent so many hours avoiding possible contaminants in their professional capacity. Learn what you can about necessary steps so that life at home isn't made up of the nurse lecturing other household members about their coronavirus hygiene. 

Take some of the emotional burden off nurses within your community. Ordinary citizens can make things better for nurses by supporting the most vulnerable in the community, before, during, or after they encounter COVID-19. "Call relatives who are isolated to keep their spirits up and reduce loneliness, especially those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities," Baker added. "Be kind." 

Volunteer yourself. Baker suggested that those who love or care about nurses could also do their part to combat coronavirus by signing up as a non-medical professional volunteer through the Georgia Department of Public Health. The GDPH announced March 24 that it had created a one-step registration portal for COVID-19 outbreak volunteers. “An effective response relies on volunteers who are pre-credentialed and organized. Georgia Responds is Georgia’s health and medical volunteer program which matches the skills and credentials of medical and nonmedical volunteers to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in Georgia,” the agency said in a press release. "Prospective volunteers will be asked for their name, address, contact information, and occupation type. In order to be eligible for some assignments, responders are encouraged to complete a profile summary, which includes skills and certifications, training, medical history, emergency contact, and deployment preferences. Once your skills and credentials are reviewed, you will be notified by a DPH representative." 

Donate masks. Government policies and voluntary efforts from individual companies like 3-M are starting to increase the levels of PPE available as of March 24, but nurses can still use PPE supplies if you have them, Thompson added. "Masks, N95 masks specifically, are the best thing to donate, and if you're a carpenter, painter or construction worker you may have some to give. Gloves are another thing you might have that your nurse friends need, too." 

Don't forget to text. Even if yours is the kind of friendship or partnership where one member is text-averse, now is the time to reach out in whatever way is still available to you, be that social network, texts or Facetime. "You want to offer any words of support you have," Fowler added. "They are the front line!" 

Reinforce the nurse's sacrifice. As Thompson sees it, "We hope that at the end of this all the people who are saying this is all blown out of proportion are right...I’d gladly admit being wrong later than suffer the consequences of others failure to comply with flattening the curve." 

But until such a day, in honor of nurses fighting the pandemic, he urged everyone to heed the call for personal sacrifice. "This thing is real, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon unless we all work together to curb its spread," he said. 

» RELATED: What you need to know about coronavirus if you live in Georgia

Thompson summed up with a quote from Chicago doctor Emily Landon's speech about COVID-19. "This virus is unforgiving. It spreads before you even know you’ve caught it and it tricks you into believing that it’s nothing more than a little influenza...In short, without taking drastic measures, the healthy and optimistic among us will doom the vulnerable. We need to fight this fire before it grows too high."

Italian Instagram influencer Alessia also concluded her Instagram post with a plea to all who love and care about the nurses doing their jobs during this pandemic. "I will keep curing and caring after my patients, because I am proud and in love with my job. What I am now asking to whoever is reading is not to make this effort vain. Please be altruistic and stay home, so that you can protect those who are weak.... I don't have the luxury of going home in quarantine, I have to go to work and do my part. You do yours, I beg you."

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