One year has passed since the World Health Organization pronounced COVID-19 a global pandemic. One year since Governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts. One year since our sense of normalcy was shattered. It has truly been an exhausting and frustrating year, but it also has been a year when we have witnessed the remarkable way that our Massachusetts General Hospital staff banded together to battle this disease, care for patients, transform our hospital, innovate, learn and grow.

We all have been forever changed by the past year. My profession has been forever changed. But my answer to the question, “Will you still be a nurse?” is always yes.

Lisa Marie Wellen, RN
Emergency Department, Mass General

During this time, we have faced the devastating reality of more than 2.6 million deaths worldwide, nearly 530,000 in the United States and 16,509 in Massachusetts. Here at Mass General we pause today to remember the 298 patients who we cared for and who died here. We grieve together with the loved ones they left behind.

Last summer, to honor those who experienced the pain and anguish of COVID, we planted three cherry trees on the Bulfinch Lawn. And this week, right on cue, tiny buds appeared on these trees, signifying spring, a time of optimism, hope and renewal.

To mark this significant and sobering COVID milestone, we share with you the poignant reflections of Lisa Marie Wellen, RN, a nurse in the Mass General Emergency Department.

This is the one-year anniversary of the start of COVID. The one-year anniversary of our “two-week” lockdown. What an incredible year it has been. We have seen incredible tragedy, right alongside some incredible work.

We have lost a lot this year. Not just as individuals or a country, but as a world. We have seen the loss of our way of life, of income, places to live, food security and most saddening, the horrific loss of life. We watched as most who became sick recovered well. Unfortunately, this was not to be the fate of everyone. Some took longer to recover or are still struggling with lasting health problems. Sadly, some did not make it through this pandemic. They will be the ones who always stay with us.

They were family, friends and patients. We helped them be as comfortable as possible, reassured them when they were scared and stayed by their side because family was not allowed to visit. We felt helpless as we stood by their bedside holding an iPad while they said their final goodbyes to loved ones. And sometimes we were the ones on the other side of the iPad.

But with any tragedy there are always the “helpers.” It is not just those of us who work in the hospitals. It is ordinary citizens reaching out to help their neighbors or people they didn’t even know. People who checked on a vulnerable neighbor, picked up groceries, donated to food banks, ran errands, made masks or did whatever was needed. Watching people come together is what will get us through.

I have been asked if when this is over will I still be a bedside nurse. While there were days when I was driving to work thinking, “What the hell am I doing? I am going to a place where just breathing the air could kill me.” My answer is always yes! I love what I do. Some days I hate what I do. And there are some days I have those two emotions at the same time, which leads to a third weird emotion.

I miss seeing my family and friends, having people over and drinks by the firepit. I miss watching my kids play sports, going to the movies, going out to eat and going on vacation.

While we are all tired, we will move on. We will move on with the hope that someday things will be normal again. Now we have a vaccine. While we still have a ways to go, there is light at the end of the tunnel. And that is the hope.

I look forward to the day when we can see people’s smiles again. I look forward to being able to hug family and friends when we gather to spend time together.

We all have been forever changed by the past year. My profession has been forever changed. But my answer to the question, “Will you still be a nurse?” is always yes.

We thank and salute our extraordinary Mass General family for your strength, courage, commitment and for all you have done–all you do every day–for our patients, families, community and colleagues.

Peter L. Slavin, MD
Mass General President

Timothy G. Ferris, MD
Mass General Physicians Organization CEO

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