The Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) is collecting a series of first hand stories of LGBTQ people in Tennessee who work in the health field during the COVID-19 pandemic.  This story is from Dustin Cross. If you are an LGBTQ person working in the health field and want to tell your story of working during the pandemic send it to Jeremiah at volunteer@tnep.org .

By Dustin Cross

My name is Dustin Cross and I am a Registered Nurse that has worked in the healthcare field since 2008. I grew up in a small town in Mississippi and moved to Nashville after falling in love with the diversity and inclusiveness of the city in 2016. I did travel nursing before moving to TN and brought a wide range of skills and experience with my Bachelor’s in Nursing, which has now turned into a recent completion of a Master’s of Nursing in Family Nurse Practitioner degree from Austin Peay.

I currently work on a COVID-19 Isolation Unit as the night shift charge nurse role. I care for patients for 12+ hours a night but the shifts feel so much longer while working in the heavy PPE that I am grateful for. I remember my first night working on the unit with positive patients. Reaching out to touch their hand and greet them with an introduction through an N95 mask, jumpsuit, face shield, and all the rest of my PPE. It was a reality check for me as a provider of care battling against an enemy in the form of a virus that we have never fought. At that moment I knew this virus was different and this pandemic would change the healthcare system. Out of all of the nursing experience I have from working across this country, nothing has compared to the heightened level of care that I have been asked to give for these critically ill patients. Despite the challenge, this has definitely been one of the most rewarding times of my career.

I find myself being encouraged with the praise that the public has given my colleagues and I. However, I also feel the pressure that this pandemic has placed upon the healthcare system of this country. It is hard to see my city and state suffering from a novel virus, but also my very own community. I stay positive for those that have looked to me for guidance and assurance that we can beat this enemy that healthcare workers know so little about. I truly believe that we can and that we are defeating this. We learn more each day. The unprecedented times that I am working in have carried me into a type of nursing that I have never thought about. The isolation. The survival while caring for others. The fear of contracting the virus in my care. The worry of giving it to someone I love. The heaviness from the politics of the pandemic. Will I have enough PPE each day? The loneliness from staying away from friends and family. Will someone back home get sick? So much is to be considered when evaluating the many changes that have taken place over such a short amount of time in the healthcare industry, as well as the way we live our normal lives at home. I lean on friends and colleagues sharing their stories from across the country during their COVID shifts for a sense of togetherness.

However, sometimes I walk into work with a heavy heart for those that are hurting around me and I unfortunately sometimes carry those burdens home with me. My face bares the markings of the masks and face shields that protect me. The bridge of my nose is rubbed raw. The headaches from the struggle to breathe through the masks linger for days at a time. I feel exhausted after running on my feet for 12+ hours in the hot PPE. The skin on my hands are irritated from continuous and vigorous hand washing. Some days it is all I can do to make it to my shower after a long shift. My coworkers and I keep each other positive on those tough days. We are a team but we are also human. Despite the opinion on the severity of this pandemic, I know our servitude matters to so many and it is uplifting to hear from the community via positive feedback and acts of kindness. It is this positivity and also the need of the community that drives me to do more, care more, give more, complain less, and seek out hope for the future in this fight. I feel lucky to be able to be a part of the healing hands that are working to keep everyone safe.

I want to enjoy the luxuries of my great city during this time so that I can fully escape the stress of fighting on the frontlines. I cannot go to the gym. I cannot grab a coffee or a bite to eat with friends at a restaurant. No movie theater outings or watching a great live show at TPAC. I love to travel but cannot plan any trips due to the unknown future at the moment. I miss the live music of Broadway. I live in midtown Nashville so I do try to get outside and walk with my dog and roommate to get fresh air, but I long for more. I miss my friends that I am socially distanced from. I also want to be able to visit with my family back home in Mississippi soon. I know that eventually I will be able to enjoy all of the great offerings of my city again. Until then, I work the frontlines to save the lives of those that just want the luxury of sleeping in their own bed like I am allowed to do each day. This city has given me the best of it and I want to return the favor through my ability to add to the healing of a place I call home.

Thank you all for your continued support of healthcare workers across the area, nation, and world.

Much love, Dustin Cross RN, MSN-FNP

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