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Covid Fog created its own reality

In the paperwork accompanying my hospital discharge from the Covid ward was the opportunity to honor a nurse.

An award had been established by the family of a young man who had died some time ago in the care of a wonderful nurse. Based on essays by patients from time to time, a winning nurse would receive a trophy and the nurses on her floor would get a party.

I could do that.

No, it turned out, I couldn't do that.

In the Covid ward, the nurses are unrecognizable — masked, shielded and shrouded in plastic that often obscures their name tag. They come and go in twos and threes, all professional, all pleasant, most very adept at joshing the old guy into a smile. He can't distinguish one from another. He tries to fix them in his mind. He asks their names. They tell him. Gina. Terry. Katie. Daria. And he forgets immediately as their words dissolve into the Fog of Covid that has infiltrated his brain. Eventually he gives up and pretends he knows them all.

The Fog of Covid, for me, came strongest with the nightfall. It scrambled my thoughts and created an alternate reality. I had a visit from an old Black preacher who praised the craft of editorial writing and prayed for my salvation. I overheard my kids partying outside my room, and I resented the possibility that they would eat the ice cream I had left in the fridge. And I got, or thought I got, into heated arguments with hospital staff. I'd wake up worried about whether I had blown my standing as a patient.

A nurse whose name sounded like "Chesney'' came to my rescue. She was a force of nature. When she flung open the door of my room and called out, "Good morning, Frank," the sun seemed to have decided to rise. The last wisps and tendrils of the Covid Fog swirled back to their vile containers. The line between reality and the other place was re-established. I asked if I had said anything inappropriate overnight. I already knew the answer. She replied, "Of course not."

Once she said she was sad that I was afflicted by the Fog. I said, "Thank you for being a voice in the night."

In the daytime, on some days, was Jaime. She combatted the Fog with her sweetness. Busy as the Covid nurses were, Jaime always had an extra moment to convey friendliness. She teased, bantered and once even laughed at a joke I attempted. She was inherently supportive and reassuring. She literally brought sunshine to my part of the ward.

Can't do this, though. Can't work with the Fog of Covid. I can't be sure whose was the voice in the night — whether Jaime or Chesney or some other nurse whose name I have forgotten. Can't be sure it was Jaime, or someone else who laughed at my attempted joke. I have to consider that parts of her sparkling personality were crafted in my Covid-addled mind. I'm not even sure of Chesney's name.

I tried to frame an essay in a way that focused on the nurses as a group, using Jaime and Chesney as symbols of professionalism without attributing to them particular words or actions. It didn't work. Not fair to them. Too many opportunities for me to be caught getting it wrong.

Maybe it was Jaime whom I thanked for being a voice in the night. Maybe it was someone else entirely. Maybe it didn't happen at all. That's how I've got to see it.

Frank Partsch is a retired editorial page editor of The Omaha (Nebraska) World-Herald.




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