“Stop. Breathe. (Yes, through your mask.) This is hard. Now shock yourself with how far you can spread your care, knowledge and love in 12 hours.”
These words, beautifully handwritten in black script on white canvas, are read by nurses in 44 hospitals throughout eight states, including 13 units at the Brigham.
“The message promotes teamwork and courage and acknowledges that being a nurse during this pandemic is really hard,” said Barbara Healy, MSN, RN, of the Brigham integrated Care Management Program, whose daughter, Maura, makes and donates these signs. “But you can overcome your fears because you love your patients and really care about these people.”
This is what Healy told her other daughter, Barbie, an ICU nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital, who has been caring for COVID-19 patients since the pandemic spread to Massachusetts. “I told Barbie, when you get to work, take a moment. Just breathe. This is hard, but you’ll do more than you ever thought you could because you care so much,” said Healy, who has five children.
Barbie then put these sentiments into her own words — words that would resonate with her fellow nurses and clinicians. “I wanted to remind my colleagues that we can do this,” she said. “We know how to love, advocate and fight for our patients. We can be their nurse, advocate and family member. But first it’s important to acknowledge that this is hard.”
Barbie asked Maura, an elementary school art teacher, if she could make two signs for the Surgical Intensive Care Unit where she and her roommate work. The first is for nurses to read when they start their shift. The second is for when they end their shift:
“Stop. Admire the strength you all had for 12 hours. The kind words, gentle hands and intelligent thoughts that changed not just someone’s day but maybe someone’s life.”
This is the message Barbie feels is most important. “At the end of a 12-hour-shift, we are exhausted. But we need to stop and recognize what we just did, physically and mentally and even more lately in a spiritual way, during these difficult challenges when we step in as the family during the final moments of someone’s life,” she said. “This must be acknowledged, and we need to remind ourselves that the challenges we face are so much bigger than ourselves; they are for someone else’s precious life.”
After the first signs went up at MGH, Maura shared pictures on her Instagram (@daintyscripts) using the hashtag #NoNursePaysforHope. She immediately began receiving requests for the same signs for nurses in other hospitals. She donates them for free to any nurse who requests them, thanks to a community of supporters who has generously donated funds for her supplies and shipping costs.
“I never imagined this would happen,” she says of the response. “My heart is full from all the random acts of kindness. Every new order means so much to me because I know how much it means to each unit and hospital. Signing ‘Barbie Healy, RN,’ at the bottom of each sign is important to me, and I’m so happy I can spread these words from her while she works tirelessly on the front lines.”
The signs have become a symbol of connection and unity among nurses, hospitals and communities during the pandemic.
“The most beautiful thing is how these signs are connecting the nursing community,” said Healy. “The words seem to be universal to nurses, as well as other clinicians caring for these patients. And people in the community have been happy to donate — some two or three times — because it helps them feel like they can do something for nurses during this difficult time.”