Essays    Reportage    Marginalia    Interviews    Poetry    Fiction    Videos    Everything   
The Vertical Interrogation of Nurses

What got you through those first few months of COVID? What comes to mind when I say, “body?” How will you live now?

after Bhanu Kapil
for my family

{ author’s note } WHO? i interviewed 1st & 2nd gen filipino & filipino american nurses RNs for 2-30+ years / ages 20s-60s / majority women // WHERE? they work in NY & CA: hospitals clinics nursing homes // WHAT [am i even reading]? a hybrid piece composed only of direct quotes from their interviews (tho some identifying details have been altered) // WHY? aim: to show the range of perspectives, thoughts, & feelings about what nurses have faced thru this ongoing global pandemic & / how they’re doing now // HOW [process]? i asked a set of questions about their experiences as nurses in general & / more specifically / about what they faced in 2020 at the start of COVID-19 / thru now / they provided written responses / “I did not attempt to “clean up” the roughness or rawness in terms of syntax, grammar, spelling…” 
—Bhanu Kapil (2001) / i did however place line breaks / assemble arrange collage the material  

result: a symphony //


I started reading books comics whenever / we have access / movies when I visit / relatives in the city / about wars / nurses tending to wounded soldiers civilians / I find the nurses / heroic / I wanted to work like them / I find working with soldiers and civilians / in a chaotic situation challenging fulfilling / but when I married early had kids / my dream to work in war zones / was put aside / I still wanted to become a nurse / in any field


My primary decision to become a nurse: 

tender age of 16

the course had less units in Math
which I dread 

as I was not good at it


{but consider this set of equations:}

If working abroad = a dream, improving your status in life


nursing = the only practical means to work abroad


farming = our main source of livelihood 

then solve for:

myself = a farmer’s daughter 


see also:

nursing = easiest “passport” 
to come to the U.S.
to support family in the Phil {1990}

retrospect {2021}: the best ever decision I made in my life
I love what I do


{enter: future variable, the next generation}

1. Why did you decide to become a nurse? 

A lot of my family members were nurses / it was always 
an easy choice for me. 


Junior year of college / I was not exactly sure what / I wanted to do / but I knew a couple of friends family who were career nurses / Nursing and Filipino culture always seemed to go together / something which represented stability in income security with jobs and 

pride / there was some influence from my family for sure / opportunities for earning potential career advancement / I had second doubts in college but when / I started my nursing clinicals / I knew it was a profession I wanted to be a part of {see: “Body”}


{what comes to mind when I say “body?”}

Different parts working together that / without that one part / body could not function as it does so / if one eye is blind / you cannot see / if one leg is missing / then you won’t be able to walk properly I could be thinking

about a body of water 


“Body” to me / includes mind body and spirit / I believe it should all be taken care of / holistically for you to work best as a whole / the better all parts of your “body” is / the healthier you become


I feel physically and mentally pushed / to my limit / I am only in my twenties and feel / so tired all the time. Even before COVID / I knew what it was like to go home with / a sore back from turning patients being understaffed / feeling tired feet from standing during my twelve-hour shifts / I started to experience / physical symptoms from the mental aspect of things / lost my appetite for food / spent more days in bed than I would like to admit / found myself losing sleep sometimes going two three days running on a few hours and / when I did sleep I / never felt rested always anxious on-edge about something.


Body is just / the physical component of a human being that mostly suffers

from any physical assault or diseases / it also integrates the / mental emotional psychological spiritual well being / if these are disturbed / the body suffers 


When nurses mentions “BODY” we mean
deceased body


Body. I believe it is / the temple of God / He made us into His image so / we can take / care of others continue on His ministry be shepherds / we must take care of it nourish it / so it can be of service to others 


the peak of COVID in California / I’ve been a nurse for quite some time experienced many losses but / those couple months of dread every time I walked into work was 

a personal hell 

many of us healthcare workers / almost couldn’t take any longer / it tore my heart / COVID patients that I could do nothing more for

except hold their hand
watch them suffocate 
without their loved ones

It was the most burnt out 
and saddest I’ve ever felt. 


A nightmare this past year was a nightmare to me I lost my partner to COVID saw friends acquaintances died because of COVID its like a war 
not knowing who 

our enemies are 


It was those times when / I was taking care of COVID patients / seeing them talking alert / and witnessing them deteriorate so fast / in a matter of hours / getting them intubated and dying the same night the next day without / family around to visit or say 


how you felt helpless / not able
to help them 

how so overwhelm you were taking care of many patients how your anxiety is over the roof that / you might contract COVID bring it to / your family 


2021. Realizing it had been a little over a year since COVID affected my hospital 

to put it in perspective my place of employment / was one of the hardest hit areas in the United States 

scrolling through my Facebook feed during my break / “1 year later” memories appeared on my timeline / I realized all the time that had passed / since the craziness first started / a wave of mixed emotions running through me / How much I grew How things feel so different to then / How it continues to rage on 

despite all the time that has passed.


Nurses’ Professional Ethics: to put aside everything to be able to give quality care to patients / it is not about what u want where / it gives you the easy way / but to put the patients’ needs first and foremost.


{ What got you through // 

The first few months of COVID / didn’t even feel real 

just utter fear everywhere /////////

I was a mess during the first initial months / the uncertainty and despair were tough / I saw the mental toll it was taking on me //////////

My partner / My partner passed away / I got sick too / I was alone / in total lockdown / didn’t work for 8 weeks


but knowing other friends colleagues that were going through / the same thing I / was going through helped a lot / I also leaned on my family / even though I couldn’t see them / I tried my hardest to leave work at work / to use the time of quarantine to look inside myself how I could care for my mind and emotions through this / I worked out every day read books that could / transport my mind elsewhere meditated did a lot of yoga to clear / my mind 


…I think / the initial public perception of “healthcare heroes” pushed me / a lot of my coworkers / into thinking it was time / (for better or for worse…) / to step up to the plate and fulfill our / obligation to the public I / thought about how every step and experience in nursing had led 

to this moment 

/ nurses from around the country coming in / the military arrived / but I think I really found comfort in knowing that I was not alone / that my coworkers were beside me / we felt like it was our job to keep / pushing / tried to accept that everything 

passes in time


1) Maybe my dedication to my vocation
knowing that if I don’t do it
who would? 

2) My faith of God that He 
will take care of me while I take
care of His people that I am 
His hands doing His work on earth
that this will pass, and we will all be 


What got me through / was to pray to God and cling to Him to keep me sane strong protect me 

from all the elements 


My strong faith in God that He / has unwavering love for human kind this 
was enough to keep me going


Family Friends the church and co-workers helped me though / I constantly received calls and text messages with words / of comfort / Family and Friends dropping food and other basic necessities at my door some / sent financial support / the church / continuously there with me / c0workers working on my days off so I could avail whatever days off / I need / I was grateful

To everybody


{LOSE?} / I had lost / a few friends / as the pandemic / raged on / one was friend from college / died of a drug overdose another friend / an RA when I lived in the dorms another / was a friend who had just finished his nursing degree / as a second career / my old childhood doctor / also passed on I // I // obviously I lost my partner my / second job I / no longer have the confidence / that I / am healthy enough / I have constant fear I / might get sick I’m / emotionally a little unstable at this time //////////// LOSE? / a. the opportunity to travel to see family abroad / b. friends who retired due to Covid / some died some left the workplace I /// I /// lost people close to me /// loved ones and friends from COVID / relatives dear friends / I feel / sad.  

{GAIN?} / it’s countless but / to name a few it’s / keeping the faith in God / not to waver despite all the sorrowful events that befell us / being able to / make a difference in the life of some patients who / unfortunately do not have / families / just merely engaging them in casual conversations is something / they look forward to / gives them an opportunity to feel they have / family / in us ///// I’m thankful again to family friends the church they’re really / helping me overcome my emotional issues / though I haven’t spoken about what I’m going thru they’re / helping in many ways // I // I had gained some new friends along the way as well / some had served as mentors reminded me of all / the opportunities outside / the only nursing job I had worked / I guess I felt ‘stuck’ / but seeing them leave their old jobs reminded me that 


is not where my nursing career has to end ////// GAIN? a. Self-introspection – that we must enjoy life because / we don’t know what lies ahead / b. Caring Character – that we must / take care of one another / c. patience – that this situation will pass… // I /// have gained so much / a better understanding of myself / what really matters in life.

{UNSURE?} / I am unsure of where I am / in my life right now / I had initially planned to move out but the pandemic / made me think about my family I decided / to stay home save money / I do not know / if I am at a point / where I should change

jobs or focus on improving my life outside of work I know / I have some mental things to work out / but I also think my current job lifestyle contribute / to the mental state which I am desperately trying to improve ///////////////////// What am I unsure of? / Nursing is very multidiscipline and covers different specialties / It’s common to encounter things you / are not unsure of most especially if that is not / your specialty so / for the safety of the patient if / you are faced with issues you are unsure of it’s / always a good idea to ask questions / clarify / before you do anything ///// 

>unsure of? / what the future brings… //// this Covid pandemic brought about the uncertainty of the future we / are still feeling the effects 

even after more than a year. 


healthy living no suffering no hatred no pain world peace ///////// just having peace of mind is enough / to bring me joy / and rest / being able to take care of the sick and bring a smile to their faces but ultimately / it’s just knowing / the endless 

blessings God provides us everyday ///////// JOY / a. I was able to help patients get well / b. seeing my family friends alive and well /////// my family brings me joy / I feel secure and happy when we are all together do things together ////// REST / a. reading relaxing on my days off / connecting with family friends /////////////// Joy for me is being present in the simple blessings of life to / appreciate what God’s created //// One of the things COVID taught me was seeing / how much we used to take for granted ///// being in nature traveling the world spending time with the people you love //// I remember I felt joy at seeing all these / agency nurses from all over the U.S. who / decided to join us for the time being I enjoyed / walking through the park and seeing / people spending more time as families being happy / at least in that moment / people were still 

trying to live life to the fullest. 


I will live 
one day at a time 
day like it’s my last 
Savoring the present not worrying
about tomorrow.


For now / I’m going to soldier on 


I’m seeing someone / to try and work on the mental side of things / I think I / always had some form of underlying depression but / haven’t sought treatment until the pandemic affected me / I’m trying 

to live

healthier get back into habits and hobbies which make me / happy / trying / to remember not everything revolves around work / make time to see people I care about / it helps knowing my family significant other support me but / there are days I just want to turn it all 


let it end

I know 
it sounds a little / dramatic but I know at the end of the day / I just have to keep pushing 


hoping / collectively we can turn the tide against COVID 


one day at a time make
the most of it enjoy
your family friends be 
with what you have regardless 

we are not guaranteed of what is next to come.


Although there are families nearby / around / I’m basically living 


I’m trying / to find a second job to distract me I have / difficulty moving on I feel / dragged back by this virus this virus

really got me


{what /do you want people to know?}

Nursing / is a multi-tasking job / you not only help the sick get better but / you also do a lot of educating explaining to them / the why’s and causes of their disease / teach them ways to / prevent them from getting sick again 

how to take their medications / what side effects to watch for / proper diet instructions that concerns 

their well being 


I want people to know / that in light of the Covid Pandemic / we need to follow directives from authorities / these are not directives to 

control others 

or to 
curtail freedom 

but to save us 
from the dreaded Pandemic it’s been

more than a year 
and it is still around


I guess I want people to know / how bad of a response we initially had / especially from the federal government how / not only Trump but also leaders like Cuomo / have failed us in their own ways / how the public discussion has shifted from ‘healthcare heroes’ to ‘infringing on rights’ I want people to know

how burnt out some healthcare workers feel how they will most likely need some form / of mass therapy / for people in healthcare and other industries 

At the end of the day I really have to look
“Am I my brothers’ keeper?”


What do I want people to know? 

Again / based on my experience

I’m not sure how to answer this 

because I myself have difficulty coping from my loss / what I’d been though 

But I still want to advise the others 


to lose hope 

seek help 
according to their need 

It might help them move on 


life is full 
of uncertainty 


at the end of the day its
up to us

how we choose to live it.



1. Why did you decide to become a nurse? 
2. Describe a moment from this past year that stands out to you. 
3. What got you through those first few months of COVID?
4. What comes to mind when I say: “body?” 
5. What brings you joy and/or rest?  
6. What did you lose? What did you gain? What are you unsure of?
7. How will you live now?
8. What do you want people to know?


{thank you to the nurses who made this piece possible: for their honesty & openness, sharing their stories with me & others & / above all / for their compassion & care in their line of work}