The COVID-19 virus and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) can't be seen, they have different symptoms, but they are linked in my mind by one thing, Protective Personal Equipment, or PPE.
While donning a gortex gown, N95 mask, a second mask, face shield and the other parts of PPE to protect me from my patient's COVID-19 infection, my mind flashed back to another delivery with doctors and nurses shrouded in protection.
In the mid-1980's, we knew HIV existed, but at that point in time as much was still unknown about HIV as was known. We did know we were expecting our first known HIV+ patient and I was her nurse for delivery.
While we were not exactly certain how the virus was spread, one thing we all did know was we wanted to protect ourselves as much as possible. We were decked out with PPE as if we were going into outer space. We probably did look somewhat like space travelers with our isolation gowns, our multiple layers of surgical gloves (we had all seen gloves tear too often to trust our lives to one thin layer of latex), our booties, hats and masks with face shields. Our garb greatly contrasted the patient who was on the birthing bed mostly unclothed and uncovered.
At delivery, she was all alone. No encouraging loved one stood beside her. The doctor and nurses surely would have all rather been somewhere else, taking care of some other laboring woman. But here we were waiting for this baby to be born. The room was warm to minimize chilling for the baby and with all our PPE we were burning up. The young OB intern who sat in front of the bright spotlight, prepared to deliver the baby, had sweat running down her face.
But there was little warmth for this patient. None of the usual conversation which occurs with delivery took place. In fact, when I tried to speak to her, to reach beyond the physical protections to attempt to comfort her, it was if she had forgotten how to accept friendliness and kindness. Somehow a comforting touch just doesn't feel as sincere through layers of latex. As much as I would have wanted to peel off those gloves just to hold her hand, the truth is, we were all shrouded as much in fear as in latex and plastic.
It was a sterile, cold delivery which held none of the usual enjoyment for me and it seemed just as little for her. Reflecting on it later, I hoped at least I had learned to look past the disease to the person within, who would surely need a smile, a hand to hold and a kind word of encouragement.
It was over thirty years before I had the opportunity to put the lesson from that young HIV+ patient into action. Once again an unknown and frightening virus entered our world. While we were learning more about COVID-19 each day, there was still enough unknowns to propagate as much fear as knowledge.
Once again, I found myself at the bedside of a young woman, dressed in virtually the same "space suit" as decades earlier, only this time nitrile replaced the ubiquitous latex of earlier years. Upon learning she was facing an unexpected delivery, alone, without family, she was reduced to sobs. She cried knowing she wouldn't get to hold her child, to share the birth with her husband or introduce her new baby to her other children.
This time I didn't hesitate to reach out, to hug her, to hold her in my arms while she cried for the experience she had anticipated and wouldn't receive. She went through the lonely experience like a real trooper and was eventually reunited with her newborn son. I made her promise, on her last day with us, to come back and visit us when all the virus threat was over, so she could see what we all looked like.
Hugging her goodbye, I felt like I had learned a good lesson. Was it a coincidence that in my career I took care of the mother in the first HIV+ delivery at one hospital and the first COVID-19 + delivery at another? No, I think not. I feel certain the Lord wanted me to have an opportunity to trust not only the PPE I wore, but also trust Him. To reach out through the gortex and nitrile and touch, hug, and love someone who desperately needed it. He was the One who put me in those places and He wanted to show His faithfulness. As my husband often says, "No one has ever trusted in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and been disappointed for doing so and no one ever will."
He is Faithful and True, indeed.
and behold a white horse;
and He that sat upon him
was called Faithful and True,
and in righteousness
He doth judge and make war."