By Anna Njau

Air is a funny thing. Ever present and life-sustaining, we rely on it utterly. Yet we somehow still take it for granted, which means we are always surprised when it, or the lack of it, causes us harm.

As a nurse, I have witnessed the lack of it. I have held the hands of gasping patients in the final throes of pulmonary diseases and lung cancer. I have attempted to comfort them in situations where comfort can rarely be attained. I would take deep breaths on their behalf, hoping my air exchange would somehow leap into their lungs. It never did.

As a nurse, I have witnessed its power. I have stood surrounded by victims pulled from rubble and laid upon our lobby floor by the few people in the area who were not injured or still buried after an EF-5 tornado destroyed our city. Dirty and wet, lying in several inches of water from our burst pipes, their hands pulled at my scrubs while they begged for help in yet another situation where there was no way I could alleviate what the air had done to them.

And now, as a human, I am afraid of what the air may do to my own family. This terrifyingly infectious air that causes my frontline kindred to endure the same feeling of helplessness, for which there is no cure.

And as a mother, wife, and daughter, I must remind myself of what other things I witnessed as a nurse. The unconditional love families demonstrated as they held vigil at bedsides, somehow finding the strength to say goodbye to people they cannot bear to lose. The incredible resiliency and enduring vitality of the human spirit in the darkest of hours. Exhaustive days of searches, grueling months of picking up, and determined years of rebuilding, fueled only by hope.

And though I am afraid, I see that same spirit and strength in so many Americans during this pandemic. We have learned to value the air that we breathe and fellowship with one another. We make sacrifices on behalf of our neighbor. We protect one another. We treasure memories of human touch. We dream of the return of those moments. We hope we will get through this. As a nurse, I know that we will. We hope we are strong enough to keep going. As a human, I know that we are.