A Winnipeg labour and delivery nurse has given birth to a powerful poem about the COVID-19 pandemic that has gone viral on social media.

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Opinion

A Winnipeg labour and delivery nurse has given birth to a powerful poem about the COVID-19 pandemic that has gone viral on social media.

Emma Cloney’s heartfelt poem expresses the intense fear and anxiety nurses on the front lines experience as they gird for battle every day with an enemy that can’t be seen with the naked eye.

It’s been shared thousands of times on Cloney’s Facebook page as well as on one belonging to another national nursing group, Canadian Nightingales Fighting Against COVID-19.

Along with being a labour and delivery nurse at St. Boniface Hospital and Health Sciences Centre, Cloney, 36, is a well-known Winnipeg singer-songwriter, half of the popular indie folk duo The New Customs, and founder of the annual Prairie Kitchen Party music festival.

A Frontline Nurse’s Poem

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Today I dressed for battle

to fight an enemy I can’t see.

Stood in lines of frontline troops being scanned into work, our new routine.

Packed a lunch for a 12 hour shift

I’ll likely never get to eat.

And looked out the hospital windows

at ghostly empty streets.

Fought with the fear inside me to go

to the job I’ve always loved.

Afraid that everything I can do here

still won’t be enough.

My hands are cracked from washing

my heart heavy with the fear,

Knowing that the enemy we’re fighting

can follow me home from here.

A nurse’s heart beats with compassion,

and we’ll take care of you.

Weather through the storm

and see this crisis through.

So again we’ll dress for battle

to fight the enemy we can’t see.

We came to work for you

Please stay home for me.

— Emma Cloney, nurse, St. Boniface Hospital, HSC

She said blending her passions for nursing and music into an online poem was the logical way to cope with the mounting stress of helping to deliver babies while wearing layers of protective gear amid a rapidly spreading pandemic that is claiming lives around the world.

"I was getting ready for a shift and feeling all of the feelings," the mother of two teenagers said Monday during a brief lunch break at HSC. "I needed a creative outlet the night before my shift because I was scared and fearful that coming to work I might bring COVID-19 home to my kids.

"There was so much emotion and fear — I felt compelled to write. I did what I always do as an artist — I turned inward to creativity to help me process emotion and difficult circumstances."

Posting the poem — Today I dressed for battle to fight an enemy I can’t see — was a way to work through powerful emotions and issue a rallying cry for people to stay home while nurses and other health staff stand on the front lines against an invisible enemy.

"The message of the poem — it was written from my first-person perspective, acknowledging the fear and that it’s common to all of us nurses, and acknowledging we are going to face this virus and stand fast and continue to deliver babies. We will weather this storm," Cloney said.

"I need people to understand we nurses are human and we are affected, but we are pushing through that fear to be here to care for you. All we are asking is that you show you care for us by staying home."

For her, the poem — "it’s a song without music" — was a way to release tension that was becoming overwhelming, and the words came in a mad rush.

"It took about three and a half minutes to write," Cloney said. "When I get a creative idea, it hits me like a bolt of lightning. When you speak from the heart, you don’t have to overthink it."

While music plays a huge role in her life, Cloney has put that career on hold to focus full-time on being a nurse during the novel coronavirus pandemic, working 12-hour shifts, arriving early to go through screening and staying late for full decontamination showers.

She started at St. Boniface Hospital in 2014 and began doing shifts at HSC in 2018. During the pandemic, she is based at HSC and not moving between hospitals.

"When the pandemic hit, I knew I was most needed here," she explained. "I’ve made myself 100 per cent available as a nurse. I have this beautiful advantage of being both a musician and a nurse. I’m lucky to work for two hospitals that respect my two careers. I’m very grateful to be able to come to work."

Since being posted online at the beginning of April, the poem has been shared more than 1,700 times on her Facebook page and a similar number on the Canadian Nightingales page.

"I was very surprised," Cloney said of the response to the poem. "Within an hour it had been shared thousands of times. It warmed my heart to know so many nurses across the country were feeling the same way.

"I realized I’m not the only one feeling scared and afraid. It made me feel honoured to know my words helped our profession. It made me feel empowered and less afraid to go to work. I started feeling like I wasn’t so alone."

The musician-nurse’s words have struck a powerful chord with social-media users. "It’s heartbreaking what this is doing to front-line workers. God bless you all!" one Facebook user commented.

Jessica Miller, director of communications for St. Boniface Hospital Foundation, said Cloney’s heart-rending words have even left seasoned hospital staff misty-eyed with emotion.

"I tried to read it out loud a few times and it hits me emotionally about halfway through," Miller said Monday. "I start to get emotional and my voice starts to choke a little.

"It’s one thing hearing it from different places in the world and another thing when you hear it from a nurse here in Winnipeg."

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs
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