By Jana Morning, Student Contributor
183 days. Neither he, nor I, nor anyone could have predicted that six months into my brother Jaison’s nursing career, a deadly virus would infect countries around the globe.
The general public has been stuck in their homes for the past two weeks, asked by our federal and state governments to stay home and do nothing. Unfortunately, there are still citizens reluctant to listen.
I’m the only family member in my household who hasn’t continued to work since the outbreak, but my middle brother, Jaison, probably has the highest risk of us all of being exposed to COVID-19. He’s a nurse at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta.
I recently sat down—six feet away, of course— with my big brother and talked to him to try to understand what it’s like to be a healthcare professional during a pandemic.
“Congratulations! We are pleased to accept you for admission to Valdosta State University for Fall 2015.” Jaison received the letter spring of his senior year. He would be the second Morning sibling off to college, following the eldest, Jordan, who was attending Kennesaw State University at the time.
Jaison, who held high school cross country and track records that, impressively, still stand to this day, had his pick of different schools offering him athletic scholarships, and he chose the one with the best nursing program.
After four strenuous years of tending to the commitments he made as a Division II student-athlete, Jaison was ready to reap the rewards.
All of his family and friends would agree that we saw a light in Jaison. Because he’s my brother and we grew up so close, it’s hard to picture him as anything other than my annoying, 14-year-old big brother. As if we’re stuck in a freeze-frame from 2010.
I don’t see him as a nurse. I hardly see him as an adult, let alone a professional.
I’ve always been proud of him, but there’s an aspect of not being able to take him seriously. He’s a very goofy person, and imagining him taking care of the ill and injured wasn’t something that came easy.
In May of 2019, he graduated Cum Lade from Valdosta State University, returned home, and accepted a full-time job as a registered nurse for Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta.
On July 22, 2019, Jaison started his first day as a nurse on the orthopedic floor, specializing in spine and joint complications.
He described juggling five to six patients as the hardest part of his day.
“Especially when they’re surgical patients,” he says. “You [have to] give them a lot of meds, antibiotics, pain medicine, assessments, charting. It’s a lot to do.”
Even pre-COVID-19, I rarely saw Jaison when I was home from school. Not because he wasn’t home, but because he was asleep, tucked away in his room recharging for the next 12-hour shift. I was lucky if I saw him on his way out the door.
This reminded me of our father. Since we were kids, our dad would sleep through the day and work through the night as a sheriff in the next county over. Jaison opted for the graveyard shift hours, working 7p.m. to 7a.m.
Also modeling after our dad, Jaison worked tireless hours while still sacrificing his free time to watch his little sister play basketball for the Vikings. Watching both our parents max out on work hours and not miss a beat when it came to supporting their kids is something I know resonated with my brother.
Although he loved his job, work was work. Jaison’s excitement going through those doors fluctuated depending on what he was expecting, but he couldn’t have guessed what was yet to come.
Fast forward 183 days, and the United States had confirmed its very first case of COVID-19.
Jaison recalls hearing news about the outbreak in China. At the time, he and his coworkers didn’t entertain the idea of COVID-19 hitting the United States hard enough to overwhelm the healthcare system.
But, here we are.
With almost 400,000 confirmed cases spanning across the country according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthcare professionals have been scrambling to provide aid to those who have fallen ill.
I’ve heard stories about doctors being separated from their families for weeks at a time, stories about nurses breaking down into tears upon getting in their cars after long shifts, and I’ve seen pictures of workers with deep marks on their faces from wearing masks all day. We have no idea what it’s like on those floors.
Healthcare professionals put themselves at risk in the workplace every day.
Although Jaison is only required to work 36 hours a week as a nurse, he finds himself working anywhere from 36 to 60.
He explains that when there are 42 beds on a floor and only eight nurses working per floor, it gets overwhelming.
“It’s hard,” he says. “It’s hard when you have to go into different rooms and put on all the different [protective gear]. Right now, we get to change our gowns and gloves, but wear the same N95 masks and face shields.”
Jaison says being smart about limiting the amount of times you expose yourself to COVID-19 patients is imperative. He realizes that he has a high chance of contracting the virus himself, but worries more about spreading it after he leaves work.
“Going to work I do see it, and people are dying from it,” Jaison shared. “Stay isolated, because it is spreading and it’s probably [going to] continue to for the next month or so. Especially if no one’s following these guidelines or shelter in place.”
Hearing him talking about his job was so strange.
You know when you have a vague idea of what someone looks like? Like a friend of a friend. You’ve seen them a few times and you have a memory of what they look like, but not in great detail. Then one day you cross paths again, and something’s different. Suddenly they look different. Well, they look exactly like they’ve always looked—but the way you see them has shifted.
I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it’s already some sort of phenomena, but that’s what it was.
Suddenly, I could see my brother in a light I’d never been able to before.
He wasn’t just this silly person I’ve shared a household with my whole life. He wasn’t just the dude who didn’t know how to close the bag in the cereal box. He wasn’t just the star runner, the middle child, or my mom’s favorite. He was more than just those default titles and fading memories I had associated him with all these years.
The foggy image I had once seen of my brother as just ‘my brother’ the past twenty years was now beginning to clear.
Well, yes, he was still all those things to me, but now I could see him as so much more. I could see him in the doctors on T.V. I could hear him in those stories on the news. Suddenly, my brother was every health professional and every health professional was my brother.
He is intelligent. He is empathetic. He is selfless. He is a caregiver and he, along with the many at his side, risk their lives each time they put on those scrubs in order to save the lives of others.
That is commendable. That is something I can’t say about myself, nor can others about themselves.
By listening to professionals and practicing strict social distancing, we can help those essential healthcare workers fighting on the front lines.
Think about your friends who are nursing majors now. Think about your friends that are applying to medical school now. It could be them on the front lines—giving a whole new meaning to patriotism.
Think about your friends, your siblings, your friend’s sibling, your sibling’s friends, your parents, your friend’s parents, your parents’ friends. These are the people that are fighting for us.
We lack empathy because we so often fail to see ourselves in others.
See yourself. See your loved ones. Stay home.
Jana is a junior Communications major from Cartersville, Georgia