After Over 365 Days On The COVID Frontlines, I’m Holding The Victories And Sense Of Community Close To My Heart
Despite the defeating statistics of COVID disproportionally affecting Black folks, there are victories worth celebrating.
March 26, 2021 at 3:50 pm
Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
I’ve been working in healthcare for over 15 years now. Rolling my sleeves up next to my peers, providing quality healthcare to my D.C. neighbors as a nurse has been an important investment. An investment into myself, into my family and into the very folks that I care for. And I’ve actively chosen community work because more than not, the folks I serve have represented people that look like me and want a reflection of themselves in the care they seek.
I’m no stranger to pandemics. In my not-so-distant past, I was working in a Northwest D.C. area hospital preparing to care for patients with possible Zika and Ebola viruses. Statistically speaking, only 9.9% of registered nurses identify as African American. Knowing this helps validate why it's so important for me to show up for communities that look like myself, that have been rendered statistically and disproportionately affected by world health issues.
It’s always been important for Black women to show up. Moreover, we always do.
And so, a year later, as my colleagues and I sat down to reflect on what a year in the pandemic has meant to people like me, on the front lines, I knew there was something so much more to reflect on alongside the multitude of people whose lives were lost. Something triumphant.
I’m not saying it’s been easy. Not by a long shot. I’m saying there have been so many small victories this year that we all need to take a moment and rejoice in those. Your mind deserves that. Your body deserves that. I deserve that. Those small victories are worth a celebration. Though atomic in size, when strung together, it is a monumental feat.
I know firsthand the fears and worries this particular pandemic has brought. Between watching the news about the virus, Black people being killed unjustly by police officers, watching marches in my city for racial justice and showing up for work, I’ve held the tension in my own bones. I have held my breath when patients I’ve cared for have taken too long to answer the phone, fearing the worst because of their preexisting conditions. I have held silent memorials for patients that have not made it through. I have covered the shifts of nurses infected with COVID-19. I’ve done these things because I show up every day and deeply care for the community that I serve. And statistics do not reflect that effort.
Statistics have told the story about deaths, preexisting conditions, job loss and hungry people. Weaved in between there are the nurses, doctors, dentists, neighbors and a wider community that have done what we have essentially always done — shown up for each other and done our very best for ourselves and our neighbors.
I work at Bread for the City, a federally qualified health center in D.C. Bread for the City supports mostly people of color, living on less than livable wages, and typically with no insurance. But it has never meant that my patients don’t care about their health, the health of their family members or even so far as their neighbors. It’s most certainly the opposite. If you’ve never experienced having to think creatively about how you were going to get access to affordable healthcare, perhaps you cannot imagine the hustle it takes to manage your health, pick up and pay for medications, access healthy food choices in food deserts and manage to pull yourself out of poverty at the same time. It is exhausting and my patients take it seriously.
Despite the cards dealt they are not vying to die. They are not actively seeking to leave this earth. And my patients are proud of their efforts to remain safe this year. On the frontlines I’ve had to walk patients from their appointments to our food pantry, seeking food for not only their own family but for the 85-year-old neighbor next door who “shouldn’t be out during this pandemic.” I’ve watched patients remind folks in the waiting room to properly wear their masks, pass out masks, make masks and make hand sanitizers all in an effort to keep themselves and the people around them safe. I’m proud of them, and we all should be. There is hope here. Even without control over every set of circumstances, there is hope that tomorrow will be better.
It’s not easy to be reminded every day that despite your best efforts Black folks who you love, serve and live with are dying faster than anyone else. It's not easy to keep going. It’d be easy to throw up your hands and say all of this is for naught. But on the ground, patients have become more accountable to each other these last few months.
It cannot go unnoticed. This is a victory. Building community accountability is an atomic victory that has led to protecting our most vulnerable community members.
And I know, the statistics do not lie. And this is not an attempt to diminish the realities of this year. But it is an insistence that this year has been multidimensional in its experience. It is an attempt to share with you that those of us in the trenches, both clinicians and patients, are working overtime to protect our community and to not feed the beast that is statistical evidence.
This is also not about resiliency. Resilience is for rubber bands and nylon, not humans pinned to poverty by racial and social injustices fighting against a pandemic. In this never-ending battle to combat diseases on one side, healthcare inequities on the other and racial injustice with a bodycam in front of us, some of us are caught in the middle. More specifically, Black medical staff are caught in the middle.
Showing up to work my full Black woman self as a nurse on the frontlines of healthcare, showing up at home with my police officer husband, showing up in my family as a daughter, showing up in my community as a neighbor — I am proud of the work I have done to support people this year. And despite my best efforts, many have died.
And while this makes me devastatingly sad to have lost so many, I am so damn proud of us. I want my flowers now. I want us all to have our flowers now.
So, while we’re reminding Black folks that they are the first in line for all things pre-conditioned and all things COVID-related deaths, make sure you’re also reminding Black folks that you see how hard they are working to keep each other safe, alive and healthy. It matters now more than ever.
Danielle Stout is the Nurse/Risk Manager for Bread for the City in Washington, D.C. She is licensed to practice in the District of Columbia and neighboring states, and received her Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Trinity Washington University in 2018.