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Frontline nurse finds healing through poetry

Tiffany Smith, a nurse at Riley Hospital, worked in the ICU at Methodist Hospital during the pandemic.
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Posted at 11:14 PM, May 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-08 00:28:26-04

INDIANAPOLIS — During National Nurses Week, WRTV honors those healthcare workers after a year that has been more than challenging.

For many front line workers, they had to quickly get out of their comfort zone to answer the call to help the tremendous amount of patients battling COVID-19.

Local nurse, Tiffany Smith, has only known in her eight year career to work alongside the smallest of patients at Riley Hospital for Children. But like so many of her colleagues, Smith stepped away from her normal duties with kids, to care for the sickest of adults at Methodist Hospital for the past year.

What she said helped her cope with the trauma she experienced first-hand day in and day out, she puts in her own words through poetry:

Poem by Tiffany Smith, RN
Breathe.
Up and down I watch your chest move. Listening to the inhale and exhale of the machine.
Breathe.
I remind myself as I feel suffocated under layers of filters, fabric and rubber. Not nearly as suffocated as you must feel, I think as I assess your numerous strains and tubes. Checking to make sure they are all doing their jobs as well as I hope to do mine for you.
Squeeze.
I ask and I watch for the slightest movement in your fingers around mine. I hope you know there is a human here with you. I hope you can feel the warmth and love in my touch through the gloves while all the while hoping you do not have any recollection or cognition of this time.
Squeeze.
I remind myself as I prepare your medications and your bath supplies. Squeeze out every bit of emotional, mental and physical strength I have. I feel empty but I can't be. You need me to keep going and I need you to as well.
Blink.
Open and close your eyes so I can see into the soul I care so deeply for.
What is your family like?
What is your career?
Do you have any pets?
What are your hobbies?
Do you have a favorite music?
Blink.
I blink away tears as I speak to your family on your phone and then hold the tablet so you can FaceTime with them.
Do you know that they would be here if they could?
Do you know as my gloved hand brushes your hair, bathes you and cares for you, that I am really just an extension of those who love you most in this world.
Turn.
Turn to one side and then the other so you don't get a bed sore. I can't imagine how fatiguing it would be to be bothered every two hours as you try to rest and heal. I explain why and I hope you hear me.
Turn.
I turn the page of your Bible that sits on your bedside table. As I read a chapter to you, what Book is your favorite? What brings you the most peace? I hope I selected well.
Dream.
I hope as you lay here, you dream of your happiest and most beautiful moments. I hope that the beeping, alarming and poking fades away to birdsong music and embraces.
Dream.
I also dreamed last night between my shifts. I dreamed of you and caring for you. I hear your beeping and alarming and I hope that I am taking that from your dreams.
I feel like I haven't slept.
Rest.
I hope that you get some good, peaceful rest until I come in again. I hope I gave you just enough blankets and that your pillows are propped just right.
Rest.
I sigh and look out your door at the rest of the unit as I take off the fabric, filters and rubber. I take one more loving, exhausted glance at you as I step out of your room and walk over to your neighbors.
Breathe.

Smith puts these words to paper in her personal journal, to embrace the experiences that have challenged her through the past year. Her experiences in the hospital has been beyond what she ever thought she would be doing as pediatric nurse.

"Because we are floaters at Riley, we work wherever we are needed but with the surge of COVID we stopped doing all of our elective surgeries and just in general our patient population decreased at Riley," Smith explained. "So we weren't needed, which transitioned to us being pulled over to Methodist to help out with the COVID ICU over there."

Months of working alongside and caring for people struggling to survive COVID-19. She wrote a poem based on her time within the hospital walls.

"Something I wasn't expecting was that most of my patients I only met when they were already sedated and intubated so I never got to speak with them or got to know them," Smith said.

Her writing is an open letter to the people she cared for but never got to meet.

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"I wanted them to know everything I was thinking and the love behind my actions," Smith explained. "When I was in the moment caring for them, I didn't really have a way to vocalize that and I wanted to do that. There was a few times that I mentioned "I hope you feel me though the gloves and through the mask and I think that is probably the component of the poem that I most resonate with, was just hoping that they felt my humanity."

It is also for the families that could not be there to hold their loved ones hands and had to say goodbye too soon.

"I want them to know we really cared," Smith added. "Having lost patients in the past and having been around death a lot, more than most people, I think one of the fears of losing a loved one is that they are going to be forgotten and I want them to know that their family members left a legacy with us and even in the short time I got to care for them, I will remember them."

Journaling is not her only escape from the reality of fighting a deadly virus.

"They are teaching me to feel the moment and respect that place, I think it has taught me that I can feel that energy better than I used to," Smith said about the horses she owns and has on her property. "I am a much better nurse because of my time with animals. I am certain of that."

It's at her quiet Greenfield home, where Smith has learned to breathe herself, before she returns to her patients bedsides, so they too can return home.

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"Being intentional and contemplative and realizing this is hard and it is okay that I don't feel okay but not dwelling on that and allowing the places that you surround yourself up to fill you back up so you can go back and do it tomorrow," Smith said.

In April, Smith was transferred back to her normal duties as a Resource Pool Nurse at Riley Hospital for Children.

Along with her horses and dog, Smith and her husband are new licensed foster parents and share their Greenfield home with three teens they are currently fostering.

Tiffany Smith reads poetry