I was awakened by the sound of the garage door opening this morning as I lay in bed…
This sound meant my husband was home from his night shift as a critical care nurse.
I laid there sleepily wondering how his night went. I knew he would be in the garage for a few minutes before he opened the door to come into the house.
The garage is where he puts his scrubs in a plastic bag to be washed. Then he removes his shoes and does his best to disinfect them, placing them on a shelf. He leaves his wallet and his keys there, too. Then disinfects his phone before coming in the house and heading straight to the shower.
We have never been germaphobes. I’ve never been that worried before about what microbes he may bring home from the hospital. “Just wash your hands and throw your scrubs in the hamper,” I’d say. No big deal. They’d get washed eventually.
But last night he worked in the COVID unit of his ICU. And all of this began to feel more real. And just… weird.
As I leaned in for a normal greeting, he backed away.
I protested: “Christian, it’s gonna be ok. You had on PPE and you’ve showered and you are clean now. I’m not overly worried about it,” I said.
“This is all new and serious,” he said. “Our hospital has done an excellent job preparing in the midst of this crisis, but no protective system is perfect, Meg.”
There was a part of me that wanted to sigh deeply and say, “You are overreacting. It’s fine, just come sit by me.” But something stopped me. For one, that’s just not a healthy way to respond to someone – dismissing their concerns. But also… I wasn’t there at the hospital.
I was at home in our safe house trying to make children sleep in their own beds so I could watch “The Morning Show” on Apple TV. I am aware of the seriousness going on in the world around me and have my fair share of anxious moments about it. But I am also more consumed with potty training that toddler boy and figuring out how on earth to “homeschool” the girls and keep these kids preoccupied and healthy. Truth be told, the coronavirus can sometimes feel more like this mythical creature rather than a real threat.
He was in the COVID-ICU unit where care is given specifically to presumptive and positive COVID-19 cases. He is learning new systems and protocols… looking into the eyes of fear-filled patients who ask him questions with the desperation that a sick child would ask a parent. But these weren’t children. They were frightened adults who were alone and he was the only direct human interaction they had. No family or visitors allowed.
He used to be a pastor. Looking people who are hurting in the eyes is not foreign to him. But this is different. It’s like a collision of spiritual and physical. And it’s… weird? Real? Raw? I don’t even know what word to use.
He’s also the one, between us, that understands disease and contagion and the science stuff. I trust his perspective.
This afternoon, as he prepares for another night shift, and I make the kids tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches… thinking existentially about a poem I wrote about songbirds… my Enneagram 4 thoughts are interrupted by this realization:
I don’t get it.
I’m not dumb or unable to educate myself on what is going on in the world of this pandemic. But I don’t fully get it because I am not there staring it in the face. And thankfully, so far, it has not infected anyone that I love.
It is staring me in the face through the eyes of my tired husband, though.
My longtime friend (and editor) Rachael said, “We are experiencing the same collective threat but our circumstances and personalities are making it so we are all experiencing it differently. I think telling your personal perspective on the situation might help others realize how different this is for everyone.”
As a nation… as a world… we are experiencing this together. It is shocking and dramatic and life-changing.
This is traumatic.
This is a collective grief.
And, as with any grief, there are layers. And it comes in waves.
And we all find ourselves in different spaces.
Loss is everywhere, affecting us all in one way or another.
It is important for us to have perspective, yes. But it is also important to not compare our specific grief to others. And it’s important to listen. Listen to people’s experiences. There is no better time than now to practice empathy and care and love for humanity.
Comparative suffering is dangerous. Empathy is not finite. When we practice empathy, we create more empathy. The exhausted ER doctor doesn’t benefit more if you reserve your empathy only for her and ignore your feelings or withhold empathy from someone lower on the “suffering scale.” Hurt is hurt, and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggles of others by responding with empathy, the healing that results affects all of us. – Brené Brown
So before I become impatient at the idea of my husband being nervous to be close to me and our kids after being around sick people… before I’m tempted to compare who is under more stress, him at work or me at home 24/7 with the kids, I need to look at his eyes, see his grief, and hear him.
It is important to trust the accounts of people who are on the “front lines.”
My husband does not work in a metropolitan healthcare system. His experience is from a regional healthcare system in the south. He feels they are prepared, as much as possible in the current environment, and he has been very impressed with the leadership of his unit. But all things considered… this is a pandemic. Not a normal day at the office.
I am not suggesting that we live in a state of panic and fear. That’s not productive. Nor am I suggesting we trust every article shared on Facebook. But I am suggesting that we listen to the people we trust who know and experience things that we do not.
So in a few hours, when he heads back to work, I’m going to listen to him. And I’m going to pray for him. And I’m going to look him directly in the eyes and hope that the care and support our family gives him can be supernaturally transferred, through all that life saving PPE, and be felt by the patients with whom he interacts. And I’m going to trust him when he says this is serious and real.
And I’m gonna remember to give myself grace so I can give others grace, too. Because this is all a lot.
And I’m gonna stay home.
God, have mercy.
Megan Baxter is a regular contributor on The Oddfellow. In addition to her writing ventures, she also is part of the women’s ministry team at Fellowship Bible Church in Batesville, Ark. She has a degree in Family Psychology from Williams Baptist University, and lives in Batesville with her husband, Christian, and their children.