My Inner Nurse Ratched

Oh, hello blogosphere. I’m back.

Recently, Brandon and I have become breakthrough COVID-19 cases. For him, it was an unvaccinated colleague who brushed off his symptoms as allergies when they went to lunch. (He thought dude’s already vaccinated except that he wasn’t.) Inevitably, as careful as I was taking care of Brandon when he became symptomatic, a week later I also became symptomatic.

At the beginning of his symptoms, I stayed away and checked in on him when he was awake. I would pop in if I hear him moving around upstairs as I isolated myself to the guest room on the second floor. I’d take his temperature and check his oxygen level, and ask after what medications he was taking and when. I was letting him take care of himself somewhat during those days.

But then Day 4, I didn’t hear him move around in the morning and came up to check. He was running 103F temperature.

At this point, “Nurse Ratched” took over me.

There was no panic. No anxiety. Just calm.

I moved through the house, fetching electrolytes and ice packs, and getting him broth, and all the things so efficiently, in almost a dream-like state. My voice was very serious. I talked to him with an eerily calm voice that surprised even myself, almost patronizing in my tone, my demeanor cold, detached.

Put this ice pack on your head and this one on your chest.

You need to wake up so I can take your temperature and you can take your meds.

You need to finish this water.

I told him I love him and kissed him on the back of his head and left. When I closed the door and let him go back to sleep, that is when I felt the Nurse leaving me.

I went back downstairs, a bit shaken as to what just happened. Like I just activated a secret mode I didn’t know I had.

Then I realized it wasn’t the first time I’d done this. The Nurse has come out before.

Since I was in 4th grade learning basic first aid as we started our Red Cross Youth training.

You see, I used to have a blood geyser for a nose. Blood didn’t bother me, my own or otherwise. When a friend fell down, I was right there with my handkerchief to bandaid her up. When someone else had a nosebleed, I knew exactly what to do.

In an emergency or life-threatening situation when someone else is in distress, I am the calm one.

And that FIGHT mode came out even stronger when I have to tend to someone I love.

I was like this when Brandon got strep throat on our first romantic getaway, and during all subsequently major health moments–broke his wrist, tore his calf, and went through other minor surgeries over the years.

Hell, I actually remembered tears in my mom’s eyes when I was the “mean nurse” after her first chemo. I was stern, firm, would not let her refuse or whine her way out of anything.

I demanded that she drink water that she said smells like chlorine. (It’s boiled, filtered water. That was all of our drinking water at the house was at the time.) The housekeeper was out buying different brands of bottled water, hoping that she might find out she could drink. But meanwhile, she must drink something.

I remembered she cried because she didn’t want to, but she eventually did. I stepped outside and cried alone in the kitchen. I was the bad guy in that situation but I had to because I didn’t want my mom to get worse.

Now that I know myself more, thanks to therapy, I understand why that would be.

Anxiety usually takes over the little things, and my emotions are superglued to my sleeves, more or less. But when the going gets really tough, as in lives are in danger, all of that went somewhere else, and out came this calm-under-pressure, rational, methodical, stoic person.

I guess that’s the way my subconscious helps me put a sense of control into a situation I have no control over. Putting order into the chaos by stuffing my emotions and anxiety away.

Because the truth is I’m scared shitless for my loved ones during these situations. The only way for me to pull through is to put on the armor and go to work.

I was especially tough with my mom because I was scared. I was scared she would be super sick after the chemo. I was upset to see her so scared. I had never seen my mom like that ever in my life.

I didn’t want to feed into her anxiety. Babying her felt like I would be hinting that she was weak and fragile, and I didn’t want that for her. That obviously backfired. She *was* scared and she wanted us to *comfort* her. My militant, stoic coping mechanism was not what she wanted or needed.

But it was the only way I knew how to be when my heart was breaking inside my chest and I was never more scared in my life.

That was how I felt when Brandon’s fever hit 103F.

Now that we both are feeling well again, I talked to him about it. Even in his feverish state, he noticed the shift the moment I read the thermometer. He told me he’d noticed from the very first strep throat incident and every major illness since. He understood why I did what I did before I knew it for myself.

It’s fight or flight in a life-and-death situation, and my fight mode happens to be a stone-cold bitch.

But of course, the moment I’m “off duty,” I started to go down the anxiety spiral as per usual and had to pull myself out of it again. But that signals that the crisis is over.

I’m sure there is the right in-between mode. But it’ll take some time for me to get there.

At least now I know.

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