Analysis & Comment

Opinion | How Nurses Are Feeling: Tired, Angry and Hopeless

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To the Editor:

Re “As Delta Rises, Nurse Shortfall Imperils Patients” (front page, Aug. 22):

I am an emergency room registered nurse in New York City. I’ll summarize my job quickly for you, since you failed to interview more than two bedside nurses for your article, choosing to give voice instead to the administrators who are failing us.

I am routinely expected to care for upward of 12 patients at a time by myself. In California, E.R. nurses are legally capped at a 4:1 ratio. I risk patient safety and human dignity and my license every time I come to work. I’ve had 20 patients by myself for entire shifts. It feels like a war zone.

Patients urinate on the floor on purpose while yelling abuses at me. Alarms on monitors and intravenous pumps go off nonstop. I found one patient in tears because I left her sitting in urine for an hour, unable to change her sheets because of my workload.

The wages that are being offered to travel nurses are not inflated. They are fair compensation for the horrific working conditions in health care.

Please give a greater voice to the nurses next time.

J. Hagemann
New York

To the Editor:

You quote a professor saying that nurses are feeling “betrayed and disrespected.” After 40 years of bedside nursing that is exactly how I feel. I have never put so many people in body bags. And the world is tired of hearing about how overwhelmed I am.

Get your vaccines, wear a mask, wash your hands, stay home. Is it really so hard? I never realized how selfish Americans are until this pandemic. Some of my own nurse colleagues scoff as I put on my N95 under my surgical mask. I have to remind them that I have a 2-year-old grandson who is not immunized.

I started nursing at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. People like to compare the two. There is absolutely no comparison. I did not fear sickening my family with H.I.V. Even in the large Boston hospital where I worked there were nowhere near the number of deaths in such a short time as I have seen with Covid.

The hopelessness is palpable and exhausting. I will retire sooner than I expected and leave a profession that I have loved.

Karen Gregory
Billerica, Mass.

To the Editor:

I’m a frontline nurse. Coping with this fourth Delta wave has made me feel the most helpless, sad and angry since the beginning of the pandemic. The burnout and PTSD used to feel like a temporary chapter. I see no end now.

Seeing the resistance to vaccines and science, as well as our failure at global vaccine equity, thereby permitting variants to flourish, is devastating. Instead of making it to the light at the end of the tunnel, it seems that we are going to have to learn to see in the dark. And we will.

Your health care workers will pull from deep wells of resilience and give everything, right up to the day we melt into tears, throw our badges down and leave with our middle fingers in the air. If you get sick, I hope there are health care workers left to take care of you. We stopped feeling like heroes long ago.

Corinna Beyer

To the Editor:

Nurses are the backbone of the health care system. Where would the public be without their willingness to work on the Covid-19 front lines and their moral resolve to care for patients despite risks to themselves and their families?

But it is understandable that they are exhausted, with little left to give. Many have moral scars from ethical issues and trauma they experienced while trying to provide the best care to sick and dying Covid patients — lack of personal protective equipment and other supplies, inadequate staffing and poor leadership, bedside attendance at multiple deaths daily, and shifting messages on how to protect themselves and their patients.

It is no surprise to nurses that staffing standards are needed along with hazard pay and supportive resources. Continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results is considered insanity, as Einstein brilliantly stated. It is time for an international Covid health care commission to forge a path forward; otherwise, system collapse may be inevitable.

Connie M. Ulrich
The writer, a registered nurse, is a professor of nursing and medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.

To the Editor:

Re “Yes, Nurses Are Heroes. Let’s Treat Them Like It,” by Linda H. Aiken (Opinion guest essay, Aug. 16):

Dr. Aiken documents the significant increase of poor working conditions for nurses, particularly during the pandemic that is causing them to leave this profession. But it is not just the lack of staffing that is causing them to leave but the lack of opportunities for them to have a direct voice in decision-making about their working conditions.

Yes, better staffing would surely reduce some of the burnout that nurses feel. But equally significant is their increasing deep sense of overall moral injury from being unable to provide adequate care for their patients.

Without giving nurses a voice in decision-making, the root causes that are forcing them in increasing numbers to leave their profession will not dealt with.

Peter Lazes
West Stockbridge, Mass.
The writer is former director of the Healthcare Transformation Project at Cornell University and co-author of “From the Ground Up: How Frontline Staff Can Save America’s Healthcare.”

Welcoming Afghan Refugees

To the Editor:

Re “New Wave of Refugees Faces a Much Chillier U.S. Welcome” (front page, Aug. 22):

You describe the lukewarm attitude of Americans toward Afghan refugees contrasted with the welcome extended to Vietnamese refugees in the late 1970s. I believe this perceived reluctance to welcome Afghans can be overcome by strong and imaginative governmental and civic leadership.

I served as acting coordinator of refugees in 1977 as tens of thousands of refugees were picked up in boats and at the Thai border and brought to the United States. We mobilized organizations throughout the country to welcome refugee families and help integrate them into our society.

Our leaders now need to mobilize hundreds of churches, synagogues and mosques throughout the country to sponsor Afghan families. Schools should actively welcome Afghan children. Business leaders should unite to make appropriate level jobs available. And so on.

I am convinced there are still millions of Americans willing to extend themselves to refugee families, especially those from Afghanistan, notwithstanding current grumbling about demographics and migration issues.

Matthew Nimetz
New York
The writer was an under secretary of state in the Carter administration.

Cosmetic Surgery That Isn’t Worth It

To the Editor:

Re “Brazilian Butt Lifts Surge, Despite the Risk of Death” (Thursday Styles, Aug. 19):

I’m still trying to understand how anyone could have such a strange (warped, in my view) perspective that she would spend thousands of dollars, risk death and suffer weeks of postoperative pain to “improve” how she looks.

What does this say about society? There are more important things to care about.

Barbara Gold

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