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A Boise nurse shares her frontline experience through poetry

A nurse at St. Luke's Health System looks over a COVID-19 patient in a hospital room, seen through a window to the room.
St. Luke's Health System

Sara McDonald takes care of COVID-19 patients at St. Luke's in Boise. She works in the telemetry — or cardiac — unit.

"We have a tendency to take the more difficult, or sicker, patients that have COVID," McDonald said. "They're on more oxygen, their needs are more acute."

Some of that unit is an overflow ICU, so she does tasks for the ICU-trained nurses there. The patients on that floor are intubated.

"They're not aware their bodies are hooked up to machines that are breathing for them," McDonald said.

Other days, she works with patients in the telemetry unit that are not intubated. It can be a higher-anxiety environment. The patients are conscious, McDonald said, but often hooked up to high-flow oxygen machines, which can be uncomfortable for them.

McDonald went home after a particularly taxing night on that floor recently and went to bed. When she woke up, a lump of stress in her throat was still there, so she started typing a poem.

"I just did a free-write, and I just hammered it out, you know, bawling," McDonald said.

She said she needed to share what health care workers are going through.

"We're in a war zone three days a week, and then the other four days of the week, we're expected to just go back to normal social life and attend gatherings and, you know, meet friends at the park and go to barbecues. And it's just not a flip you can switch," she said.

"I am a COVID veteran / This is a different kind of war / A war some don’t believe in / A war some mock, a “hoax,” the poem begins.

The line "On to the next.." is repeated throughout, which McDonald said represents how health care workers might react in different ways to the stress of the current hospital situation, but in any case, they need to keep moving from one task to the next, or from one COVID patient to another.

"You still have to keep going, there are still people that need your help. So you just keep pulling up your boot straps, and onto the next."

Read McDonald's full poem below or at this link.

The music in this audio story comes from Podington Bear.