Social Distancing. Wash your hands. (Wait! You really had to tell us that?) “Flatten the Curve.” PPE. Plus, all the medial jargon our layman’s brains can handle.
Just a few weeks ago, all but one of these was foreign to many of us. As writers, we’re constantly living the moments that inspire us to create. In just one blink, celebrities and star athletes were rightfully replaced by a new set of idols: healthcare workers, grocery store employees, bank tellers, food service workers, and truck drivers. For Gulf Coast Regional Representative Anita Vatshell, a Registered Nurse of 25 years working at Oschner Health Center in New Orleans, she instantly found herself in the epicenter of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the South. Just as with each word written, every day is unlike the last.
With New Orleans just a few weeks after celebrating the largest party in the world, with travelers from all continents traversing to the Big Easy, the upward trend in cases began to increase exponentially each day. Amidst the constant anxiety, fear, and heartbreak surrounding this global pandemic, Anita finds herself living a script that has yet to be written. I was fortunate to speak to Anita’s husband, Greg, to see how she has been doing. Although always upbeat, exhaustion, anxiety, and sheer concern can be a daunting task for any health professional during this pandemic.
Anita has worked as an observation nurse since August of 2019, whereas she worked Hospice prior. Although death was never a formidable stranger, this virus was unprecedented. Working twelve hour shifts each day from 7 am to 7 pm, Anita, like many of our nation’s healthcare workers and peripheral staff, is facing down an unseen enemy each day. Although we think of our nation’s mighty military facing down an enemy on shores abroad, this definitely gives you a deeper understanding of the human condition and spirit of healing. When asked how Anita decompresses from a twelve-hour day, Greg simply stated that great Louisiana past time of sitting on the porch, allowing her troubled day to pass, usually with a glass of wine.
Another great part of this story is Greg’s role as his wife’s support system. Greg is retired and said he is able to do most of the chores in the house, including cooking, to allow much needed time for he and Anita to talk, ride bikes, and of course allowing her the time to write. As with many of us writers, we have problems shutting down our brains and we are easily stimulated. As such, Anita is writing a journal of these days which, I anticipate, may lead to a staged reading and/or opening in the future.
Just as clergy, educators, first responders, and military service, I believe serving as a healthcare professional is truly a higher calling. As the nation’s playwrights, we often give a voice to the voiceless, spotlight the ills of the world, or even correct history through previously untold stories. We are the storytellers of yesteryear keeping track of our history in every corner of this country to tell firsthand accounts from the frontlines.
With that I leave you with the words of Mrs. Anita Vatshell: HEALTHCARE HERO/DRAMATIST!
In the thick of it.
Work of shifting tides
No face or name the same
Room numbers at times
Donning and doffing
Enclosed in my air
A hand held through shields
Breathless and vulnerable
All of us
ED “TIGER” VERDIN has over 25 years of acting, directing, playwriting and theatre management experience. He produced and starred in his first self-written play 9/11: Undying Love. Other works include Deception, Prodigal, Club Fed, The Forgotten Healer, and Life in the Quarters. Tiger is the Executive Director of Soulful Productions, Inc.