By Christa Varnadoe, BS, RN, OCN®

Note. Perspectives expressed in ONS Voice letters to the editor are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of ONS Voice or the Oncology Nursing Society.

In early March, I developed fatigue, mild shortness of breath, and a dry cough, so, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations, I called the triage line at my primary care clinic. The nurse with whom I spoke offered me an appointment that same day.

I am a graduate nursing student at Yale School of Nursing and an oncology nurse with health insurance coverage. During my drive, my brain swarmed with questions: Do I have the COVID-19 novel coronavirus? How long have I have been infectious? What if I have infected others, including the high-risk patients I care for (I commute to New York City via Metro-North Railroad for my clinical training)? Will they rush me to the emergency department and into the abyss of isolation?

While I sat on the examination table at the clinic, my anxiety was relentless. I struggled to comprehend what my doctor was saying. With an air of do-no-harm defeat in his eyes, my doctor explained that they had no resources to test for COVID-19. All they could offer was the opportunity to wait in line for an inhaler prescription.

Later, I called my program director. We reviewed the CDC and university guidelines and decided that a voluntary, 14-day self-quarantine was best for my patients, the university, and the community. I have fully recovered, but I will never know if COVID-19 was to blame.

How This Affected My Desire for Advocacy

My experience has gnawed at my consciousness. Past wars, natural disasters, and global pandemics remind us that nurses rise to any occasion. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses are the country’s largest healthcare workforce. Year after year, the Gallop Poll ranks nursing as the most trusted profession. As new nurses, we pledged to our patients that we would practice our profession faithfully and loyally. As history often repeats, nurses continue to serve as health diplomats for all of humanity.

Our president and many new appointees within his administration also made oaths to faithfully preserve and protect the constitution, the country, and its citizens. In the time since they took those oaths, our political climate has been filled with rancor, confusion, and fear. At the White House, those in power have forsaken their oaths.

In contrast, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo takes his oath seriously. He advocated for the nurses who are now thrust into the center of this pandemic. He said that he believes the president, his administration, governors, and lawmakers should consider the expertise of healthcare professionals. Nurses’ beacon of hope and facts at the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci, recommended expanded access to COVID-19 testing.

What I’m Calling My Fellow Nurses to Do

To save lives, nurses demand accountability from all of our political leaders. Nurses demand consistent dissemination of factual information regarding COVID-19. Nurses advocate for equal access to COVID-19 testing and care for older adults; those with underlying health conditions; those with weakened immune systems; and the uninsured, undocumented, and incarcerated. At a minimum, healthcare providers and those at high risk should have access to free, on-demand testing. For the safety of our patients, our families, and all healthcare providers, nurses demand consistent supplies of personal protective equipment. Nurses demand greater advocacy for physical distancing and staying at home as ways to reduce exposure to the virus and conserve what supplies exist. Nurses demand that our political leaders put aside their party differences to stand in solidarity for appropriate allocation of funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (S. 3548).

Florence Nightingale once said, “Very little can be done under the spirit of fear.” Our efforts to prevent and alleviate pain, suffering, and death during this global pandemic will be stymied without corresponding political competence, compassion, and truth—the unwavering qualities of a nurse.

Editor’s note. As a nurse, you have the obligation, authority, and opportunity to speak out for the policies and legislation that support you, your practice, and your patients during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Contact ONS Public Affairs Director Alec Stone to learn how you can get involved.