Routine. Our house of four maintains a routine, broken predominantly only by the nightly living room updates of a pandemic world. Even then, that itself is a part of the routine.

Two of the housemates are medical students. They remain studying for a Step One exam that is constantly at risk of cancellation. The start of the third year, the year they really get to experience the clinical side of all they have learned, faces uncertainty. Otherwise, their daily schedules are the same as pre-pandemic.

I set no alarm, because I know that just after seven, I will awaken to the sound of fresh coffee being ground. It is my cue that I should also get my morning started, although I go about it in a lazier fashion than either of them. I dress in jeans, a jacket, and socks with sandals, knowing that by midday, I will have shed down to shorts and t-shirt. Classic Colorado.

I pour cold brew, made from the beans of my favorite local shops, and go to sit on the back porch, overlooking the chilly yard and the fresh morning sun. Sometimes, there’s just me with my coffee. Other mornings, I bring my phone or journal.

This morning, it was the latter. The idea is that I will spend a few minutes out here, appreciating the serene moments of a weekday morning lacking its normal traffic. The reality is that it is usually closer to an hour, if not more. 

MORE: See all of our Write On, Colorado entries here.

By the time I return inside, the fourth roommate will be up, breakfast made, completing what little work from home she can. As an employee of a nonprofit that works with afterschool programs, the amount that needs to be done right now is limited.

Studying at home has never been a strong skill of mine. I miss my local coffee shop, and often fail to cold brew their beans as well as they do. Otherwise, my life is rather unchanged from pre-pandemic. I recognize I am fortunate for that.

I attempt to study. I paint watercolor postcards to send to friends both in the same city and far away. I bake. I continue to learn to cook, which includes eating leftovers for days, as I fail to recognize that the recipe was indeed made by a mom of four. I run.

At night, all four of us gravitate to the living room. We watch a movie together, or separately. I continue working on a puzzle I’m trying to finish before my kitten spreads pieces of it throughout the house. We discuss the daily updates of our pandemic world and speculate about the future.

I am grateful to have housemates. Although I’m an introvert, quarantine in an apartment alone is its own type of hell. This is not a theory, but knowledge learned from the winter I spent in rural Montana. Despite all the technologies that keep our world in touch, I only survived because of the locals that befriended me and risked snowstorms to keep me company. My heart aches for those who must be experiencing that loneliness now. 

The hospital. A few weeks prior to pandemic, I take a leave of absence from my work as a nurse. Two years ago, I moved out here, a fresh new graduate from my home in southern Louisiana.

As a student, a passion for the neonatal population was awakened. I could spend pages discussing life as a new grad, but I will try to keep it short, maintaining the gist.

Interview feedback ranged from “too nervous” to “too cocky” with sometimes no feedback at all and literally everything in between. I became an adult medical-surgical nurse, with the dream that after two years, after some experience gained, a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit would be willing to train me.

I’ve never felt a pull to adult nursing, knowing that even as I entered school, but of course, adults deserve the same quality and care as any population. I’ve no desire to sit for a medical-surgical certification, but I buy the textbook anyways and force myself to study from it.

I am working this job entirely just to move on from it, but I will not allow that to show to my patients. It is hard. On days it is hardest, I break out my C-NIC book. Reviewing it never feels like work, because it’s fascinating. I find peace in learning.

In February, I break. To say I hit a wall is disastrously understated. Non-critical patients screaming about ice water; educated patients refusing all interventions, yet complaining; and openly sexual comments that I ignore because I am a nurse, and I will care for the next 12 hours, even if I’m uncomfortably creeped out, all result in burnout. I have nothing but respect for the nurses who do this for years. I break down to my manager, worried that the quality of care I give has suffered. I take a leave. I begin to study for the GRE and research other careers. 

Pandemic. I completely crumble at least once during each day. I grew up reading “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter,” stories about heroism. I always imagined that if I were a story, I would rise to my task. I would take on the adventure, face danger, and persevere for the greater good of the world.

Imagining Gandalf standing next to me at Minas Tirith, I would know what to do with the time that is given to me. Now, here I am, with the skills and license of a nurse, but freshly burnt out. I stay in touch with coworkers, saying that I’ll return if they have need, but they do not ask it of me, and I do not try too hard.

Mostly, I hide in my quarantine, knowing that I am not the character I thought I was. Studying is more comfortable than adult nursing, and I convince myself it’s acceptable to never leave the Shire’s comforts to stand with the healthcare providers saving our world today. 

Margaret Gambel lives in Denver.