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Illustration by Robin Martéa Johnson

The Hero, The Brave and The Tired: A Nurse’s Journey Through the Pandemic

It’s 2:40 a.m. as I sit here in the confusion and aftermath of a code blue. All that is on my mind is how worn I am of this paradigm—the lifesaver, the hero, the brave front liner. 

I’ve seen almost every side of COVID-19. I’ve seen an elderly woman dying slowly in her home from a GI bleed because her daughter—a respiratory therapist—was too scared to take her to the hospital. I’ve seen someone take their last breath from their hospital doorway as I screamed for a code team and frantically dressed in my personal protective gear so I could get in and start CPR. I’ve seen that one doctor exhausted because he is one of the only ones who will actually don all the appropriate PPE to see each of his patients. I’ve seen nurses so stressed from trying to fill gaps in the schedule, that they fall into full grand mal seizures in the middle of the night. 

Believe it or not, after every occurrence, I went home to my beautiful children. And every time I would say, I cannot do this anymore.

I am tired. 

Six years ago, I entered the nursing profession somehow the same: riddled with anxiety and feeling out of place amid those who coast through the chaos. I can’t help but to somewhat look down on the “aftermath gossipers” as I sit here, silent and fearful, reflecting on how fragile the line of life and death is, wishing I was home with my babies. Nursing still leaves me uncomfortable in my uniform and questioning if this is really for me. COVID has changed my life like many others, just differently. It has confirmed my uneasiness in the profession, my values of family and my place in this area of health. 

I cannot do this anymore.

‘I Once Felt Like a Big-eyed, Light-footed Nurse’

When working on the COVID unit at UMMC, nurses have to dress in full PPE before entering a patients room, discard of disposable masks and gowns upon exiting, and then sanitize all reusable PPE before redressing and entering the next patient’s room. Photo by Ariel Wiggins

If you placed healing and health on a spectrum, then working on a COVID unit in Jackson, Miss., is on the dark, emotionally unyielding side. Here, decades of poverty, health illiteracy, and neglect crash full speed into the infamous Mississippi comorbidities and complications of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. 

Where I once felt like a big-eyed, light-footed nurse, I now navigate through signs, symptoms and exacerbations with a pleading disdain for those in my community to change their ways. Sadly, the damage is so deep that to protect my empathetic energies, I may just need to change my position on the health-care spectrum.

In 2018, I coped with my unrest by beginning a turbulent journey to health. I started by exercising frequently and gradually changing my diet in effort to lose weight and feel better from the inside out. Within a few months, I had lost over 30 pounds and developed a healthy relationship with food and exercise. 

This soon led to me coming to terms with my issues with mental health and began the work to heal my mind with therapy. The journey became my lifestyle, and I was able to establish my personal values of health and wealth. This gave me the boost I needed to complete my master’s degree in nursing administration from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in December  2019 and ultimately led to my pursuit to become a certified personal trainer.                

In May 2019, I enrolled in the American Exercise Council (A.C.E.) personal training program.  I completed my training in January 2020, and I initially planned to start helping others change their lives around with diet and exercise in May, but COVID put a stop to those plans. 

The pandemic crept silently as I was making big plans to step into a field that I felt would revitalize my desire to care for my community. 

I was doing home health during the day and working the floors of the hospital at night when the first critical point hit Mississippi. I wasn’t quite prepared for the initial shift, but I responded well. 

Home health increased drastically as offices were closed and fear raised, while the hospital changed slowly but surely. We went from no mask to sometimes masks to absolutely masks; from fun float-pool nights in short-stay surgery to the COVID unit for weeks at a time; from one patient and a partner on the COVID floor to three patients and every medical professional for themselves. It slowly changed nursing as I knew it, which rapidly increased my desire to leave the fight from this end of the spectrum.

 ‘I Am Not a Quitter By Any Means’

I have been a single mother since age 17, 10 years now. I say that to say: I am not a quitter by any means. There was a time where I put providing for my children over everything, including being there with them and my mental health. 

So here is the eerie highlight: COVID rescued me. 

Ariel is the proud mother of two girls, Dasia and Daria, pictured here for quick mirror selfie in November 2018. Photo by Ariel Wiggins

It has rescued me from leaving my children without telling them when I will come back and how much I love them. COVID has rescued me from my detached relationship with my grandmother by showing me that those small differences aren’t worth it. COVID has rescued me from the “more money, the better” mindset because I see now that time with my family and memories of my children mean more than any new car, new house or promotion. 

COVID has shown me my resilience. It has solidified in me that no matter the circumstance I am built to overcome, educate and reunite. 

COVID has taken a lot from so many people, so it is up to us—those who have survived, those who have overcome, those with a purpose and a message—to lay new foundations and mend broken ones so that we as a people can get back to what is right and needed. 

We need health. We need wealth. We need jobs that allow us to take care of our families. 

We need vitality to help us take care of ourselves and our loved ones.

We need change.

I’m not going to say that I’m leaving nursing forever, but I now have a purpose that is bigger than aiding the sick. My new purpose is to lead the change, a purpose I take quite literally. I do not have a billion-dollar plan today, but I’m going to start by helping those I love and those surrounding me figure their way out, then change—whether by seminars and vision boards or diet plans and exercise. 

I will not let the death and destruction of this virus be in vain. There will be a beautiful rising from the aftermath, and I will be an agent of change, pulling people out of the rubble.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and factcheck information to We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

This  essay is part of the “Equity and Resilience: The Impact of COVID-19 on Mississippi’s Black Women” reporting collaboration between the Mississippi Free Press and the Jackson Advocate, supported by the Solutions Journalism Network. Please write to submit MFP Voices essays or to join upcoming virtual solutions circles.

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