In the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, it was difficult for me to look at fearful eyes over masks and tell staff that they were going to be among the first units to receive positive patients. Many staff had appropriate questions like, “Will I have the right PPE? How will I keep my family safe? Will I be safe?”
We had the first hospitalized positive patient in the state of New York at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. After that patient arrived and volume mounted, we knew that this disease would have a mortality rate like we have never seen in such a condensed period of time. In roughly nine weeks, about 21,000 New Yorkers would die from COVID-19. Nurses told me that they had seen more death in a single shift than they had seen in the entire previous year. There was no time to grieve nor recover, because the next patients were coming.
I quickly saw fear change into grit as nurses felt a moral obligation to make their patients feel safe, to help them physically and emotionally, and to treat them like family, especially since their family could not be with them. Around this same time, I saw a picture of “Fearless Girl,” the bronze sculpture by Kristen Visbal in the Financial District of Manhattan, with a mask on. Her powerful stance inspired me to write this haiku in honor of our NewYork-Presbyterian heroes who also stared anxiety and adversity in the face — and saved countless lives.