Infinite Hope by Anna Miriam Abraham

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Infinite Hope by Anna Miriam Abraham

This essay won the Gold Finalist Award at the Queens Commonwealth Essay Competition 2022

Father died a hundred and sixteen days ago and I’m still working in the same ward, replacing oxygen masks and administering IV shots. You know the usual duties of a nurse.

Eleven days after I received the news and took leave on personal grounds, I was back at work, switching back and forth between doing my rounds and staring listlessly at the wall in the break room. 

Sometimes the other nurses would join me. There was Nat, with his salt and pepper hair, bone-tired from carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders and dealing with screaming children from the children’s ward and Jia, inked arms and neck bright against the drab gray walls of the hospital. Her never-ending energy, sourced directly from the coffee shop outside her apartment and the packs of chewing gum she kept hidden in the various pockets in her scrubs, her presence was a breath of fresh air from the suffocating sorrow permeating the air around us.

 Out of the revolving door of nurses flitting in and out of the room for a cup of coffee or a semblance of peace, Nat and Jia were the most consistent. Together, we’d sit and trade our stories of the day, of uncooperative patients and pompous doctors who loved swishing their way in and out of rooms. If the fates had mercy on us, our breaks would last for a good forty five minutes before the dreaded beeping of the pager would request our presence.

They had been worried, prodding me to talk about my feelings or to take a break but when their questions and well-meaning concern did nothing but push me further into my shell, they let it be. 

The days after my father passed away continued as normal, occasionally, more often than I would like it to be, I would have to walk back to the waiting room, the air crackling with anxiety and anticipation and inform some poor soul’s family of their death. 

COVID-19 had taken away a lot from us, the casual meet-ups with friends we used to look forward to, the comfort we’d find from our parents as we were forced to quarantine out of fear of contamination, the general hustle-and-bustle of life that kept the existential dread at bay.

But being unable to see your loved one’s face one last time before you bid them goodbye was a form of torture only the highest of evil could have conjured up.

Holding up a phone camera to a corpse’s body had become something of a second nature to me and I had been able to detach myself from the scene as if I was watching from somewhere outside of my own body. I’d tune out the despondent wails and quiet sniffles on the other end, if only to save my own psyche from any more turmoil, however remorseless it may have seemed. 

All that had changed after my father’s passing, I had ended up on the other end and another nurse had heard my own sniffles and stood by as I called for the man who’d raised me to come back. I wondered if she’d built a shield around her for times like these or if she was like Nat, taking every person he lost to heart and carrying the memory of them around with him like one carries knick-knacks in their pockets. 

It was a dangerous thing, getting attached; it would only hurt us in the long run. 

I had never planned to be a nurse.

I had lived a carefree life before, going where my instincts took me and my instincts had taken me right into a nursing course because life is unpredictable like that sometimes. 

The pandemic had me rethinking my life decisions, pushing me into the vicinity of resignation once the sixteen hour shifts at the hospitals began to bleed into twenty four hour shifts and then into forty eight hour shifts. Not being able to hug my daughter right after these shifts had me rethinking the stay-at home parenting lifestyle. 

But despite the sorrow, pain and frustration I felt each day, I kept going. The emotional side of me that I liked to leave back in my locker in the nurses’ changing room took over and pushed me on, one step at a time, one patient to another. 

There were days, where I felt like doing nothing but ripping the stupid PPE suit off my body and making a break for it. But then I’d think of the old lady back in ward number five who’d tell me her new favorite quote from the book she was reading, or the teenage boy who looked forward to the extra samosas I’d try and sneak him and told myself that if they could survive in such a desolate environment, I owed it to them to try and lessen their sorrows, even if only for a few hours, even if it came in the form of antibiotics and sheet changes. 

I wanted to be a part of this, a part of the community that seemed to be banding together and doing their best to help in their own way. From organizing food and clothes drives to banging utensils on the roof (and in turn scaring the pigeons), everyone seemed to be doing their best to help where they could. 

The idea of being part of something so free from disagreement and watching people put aside their differences to work together; wouldn’t it be stupid to not want to be part of something so beautiful?

I had long since trained myself to tune out my emotional side when it came to matters of work but when my job and the rest of the world began to overlap in more ways than one; I knew that I couldn’t hold it off any longer. 

Since the pandemic started and the death and destruction it left in its wake multiplied, a chain-reaction of goodwillness was brought out from the general public, and had me looking at my job in a completely new light. And it had only increased ten-fold after the death of my father, which had brought about a round of introspection that often tags along with grief like an annoying younger sibling. 

My job seemed more important than ever. Yes, I held the lives of countless people in my hands for years before this, except now, with the video cameras and journalists that latched onto stories of tragedy like a dog latched onto a bone, it had never felt as public as it did before. When reporters hounded me at the hospital gates, desperate for the tiniest sliver of information on the current situation, my job had never seemed as daunting as it did then. 

It felt as if the whole world was watching and in a way they were. I would go home, shower away the dirt and germs of the day and switch on the TV, only to see one of my co-workers on the screen, administering a vaccination shot or a doctor from one of the other departments, writing out a prescription. 

Even in the comfort of my own home, the weight of my job continued to haunt me.

My service and contribution to society had never been at the forefront of my mind, instead, I had thought about my patient who refused to take their medicines on time or my daughter’s extra-curricular classes on the weekend and the carpool arrangement for that week and various other mundane tasks that stressed me to no end. 

But when this wide publicization of hospital life rose, a part of me was terrified but a bigger part of me realized that my job mattered, what I did, mattered. I was helping people and the euphoria I experienced made me feel invincible. I owed it to them to do my best. I owed it to myself.

Ever since the first case appeared, a mantra of “Please let this be over, end this suffering” has been playing on repeat in my mind. But even as the cases dwindle down day by day, the virus is still a presence in our life, an unwelcome one but a presence nonetheless. And it seems like it’s going to hang around for a while. Teetering on the line between hanging around in the stage wings, waiting for its cue and hogging the center stage, grinning as all the attention turned on it.

But along with the virus, something else has persevered. Some call it naivety; others call it the belief that balance will be restored once again. 

I call it hope. It’s what brought us all together; it’s what pulled me out of bed on the darkest days where I felt like the light would never shine on us again. 

The world will never be the same again, and maybe that’s a good thing. In the same way it shattered us, the Corona Virus started piecing us back together again.