| Kichels |

The Kichels

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 824)

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    While I don’t generally read the Mishpacha Magazine each week, I have to say, that when I do have time to read, I enjoy it and I feel that it is an excellent publication. Like many people, the first feature I turn to, is The Kichels. Unfortunately, the comic from two weeks ago didn’t leave me chuckling; I felt offended and angry. I am referring to the episode where not one character was wearing a mask correctly.
    I have been an acute care nurse in a really lovely community hospital in Valley Stream, Long Island, NY for over twenty years. Most of those years, I have worked, and continue to work in critical care (ICU). My hospital was one of those in the New York metropolitan area that witnessed some of the worst COVID numbers. When I hear statements like, “oh, it’s political”, or “it’s a hoax”, or “they starved my family member”, and “they didn’t let us visit, those rotten nurses/doctors” I think of one thing: We have surveillance cameras on us constantly. Pull all of the hospital’s surveillance cameras and publicize them for the world to see what actually happened in the hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Allow me to give you a glimpse.
    The average 12-hour shift became a 14-hour shift. Nurses didn’t go to the bathroom, nurses didn’t eat, nurses didn’t sit, and nurses often couldn’t find time to have a drink of water. I stopped bringing lunch to work, because I found myself throwing it away, uneaten, at the end of my shift. Nurses literally spent all day keeping people alive; monitoring continuous vital signs (temperatures, blood pressure, pulse and heart rate and rhythms, respirations, and oxygen saturation), and treating them almost as often, treating the sick with multiple lifesaving drips (the average patient had 5-8 life-supporting IV medications that needed to be changed very often), monitoring blood sugars, monitoring ventilator (respirator) support, drawing blood and lab work and then treating abnormal values, and, of course, speaking to families and providing emotional support.
    The ICU that I work in has 16 beds. During the pandemic, there were over 30 patients each day. Nurses who usually cared for two critical patients each day had to care for three or four patients at a time. That lasted for about six-seven weeks. Not to mention the additional 10 or so critical patients who were in the ER each day because the main ICU didn’t have enough beds to hold them.
    Most of the days I was assigned to work in a makeshift ICU. It was like a field hospital. Supplies were scarce. PPE (personal protective equipment) was scarce at times. Our N-95 masks that we were accustomed to throwing away after previously going into a negative pressure room (those used for TB and other airborne diseases), were suddenly a rare commodity. Even if one broke, our manager told us to staple it back together.
    I remember wondering if we were all going to be dead in a few weeks, considering that it seemed that the Malach HaMaves had literally set up shop in my unit. Could you, dear friends and readers, understand that thought? You surely cannot imagine what life was like for the healthcare workers who went to work each day to care for your family members. We put our lives on the line.
    Nurses asked shailos about pikuach nefesh. Were they allowed to pick up extra shifts, when asked, to help out their strained colleagues? I have a colleague who did not see his infant for 51 days. Another colleague, a young, new nurse, moved out of her high risk parents’ home. We worried that we were bringing the disease home to our children, spouses, siblings, and parents. Many nurses wrote wills for the first time.
    Oftentimes, in the past few months, as I walked in my neighborhood with my mask, I wanted to wear a sign that said, “I worked in the ICU (or ER) yesterday. Would you want to inhale my germs?” My mask protects you and your mask protects me. There is nothing comical about this. I work with many talented doctors who live and breathe a website called “up to date.” They read every single published report related to COVID-19. Even they are shocked at the virulence of this disease. And these experts advise to continue wearing masks and maintaining social distance.
    In addition, I feel it is our ethical and moral obligation to be mekadesh sheim Shamayim by doing the very small act of wearing a mask. When I am standing and caring for a patient, I am embarrassed to see and hear news reports about the new COVID cases coming from our communities, from these super-spreader events like chasunos and other such gatherings. How am I to respond to my fellow nurses and doctors when they question me about our communities’ poor COVID habits?
    Why does my family have to endure “mask shaming”? Why have my children had their masks pulled off their faces? Do the rules and laws only apply to me? Come on, Klal Yisrael, we can do this. It’s Elul. Can we just wear our masks and practice social distancing? Can we just do it to protect our healthcare workers who have to wear masks for an entire shift multiple times during the week?
    I believe we can. We can put our personal yegios aside, we can put our discomfort aside, and we can say we love our brothers and sisters in Klal Yisrael, and we are doing it for them. And we can do our part in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
    Wishing everyone a Kesiva Vechasima Tova and a Gut Gebentsht Yahr,

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      Thank you for publishing the letter from Miriam Rivka Rozen. My words come as a public hakaras hatov to the medical personnel, Hatzolah members, and others on the front lines who fought the deadly and invisible enemy of the coronavirus.
      It is unconscionable that those heroes and heroines who put aside their personal safety have had to hear disparaging remarks implying that hospital workers intentionally neglected their patients or were cruel to keep family members away from the contagion. In our experience with my son’s medical team, we were on the receiving end of a constant effort to update us on our patient. Invariably, it seemed that the doctor or nurse who spoke to us on the phone had been there continuously for extended periods of time. I believe that every effort was made based on the medical information at that time to give the best care under circumstances comparable to a war zone.
      Equally unconscionable is the current dismissal by some members of our community to recommended safety protocols, if for no other reason than it is a serious chillul Hashem to see identifiably religious people publicly ignore precautions to prevent the spread and continuation of this pandemic. Dismissing these directives as “it’s over” or “it isn’t serious now” or “I can’t function with a mask” is irrelevant to the message seen by outsiders as uncaring or ignorant of public suffering. Ignoring or dismissing required health directives is a complete disregard of the sacrifice on the part of Mrs. Rozen and all first responders.