PARKER, Colo. — Nine months into the pandemic, trauma nurse Allison Boerner hoped the holidays would bring her a break from the loss she and her colleagues have witnessed all year.
“Most of us are pretty exhausted,” said Boerner, an emergency room charge nurse at Parker Adventist Hospital. “We went through wave one and then kind of had our head above water and now it feels like our head is below water again.”
That emotional weight is now heavier than ever as COVID-19 cases seem to be endlessly climbing across the country.
“The fear of going anywhere other than the hospital and my house is terrifying to me because I'm living it every day, and I'm seeing what this virus is doing to people, and it's horrible,” said Boerner.
Boerner said that’s why, for the first time in her life, she’s not seeing her family for the holidays.
“It’s just something that I'm willing to sacrifice to keep all my loved ones safe.”
She first felt the devastating weight of isolation during the holidays at Thanksgiving.
“I'm from a big family and none of us saw each other. We had a Zoom meeting and it was hard,” said Boerner through tears.
Now, with Christmas on the way, Boerner made the tough choice to once again stay away from those she loves, especially because her job puts her at a higher risk of bringing COVID-19 to her family.
“Our whole family's never missed a Christmas Eve, ever. So this is gonna be really, really weird,” she said.
Boerner has dozens of family members across Colorado and Christmas is the one time when everyone gathers.
“It’s like a huge family tradition for all of us and we're not doing that. The hardest thing and the worst thing that I'll miss is just being surrounded by the love of my family especially after a year like this year,” said Boerner.
The mother of two said her sadness goes beyond her own loss, it’s the loss her whole family is suffering too.
“The fact that my kids are gonna miss that for like the first year that they really can understand Santa and Christmas, it’s heartbreaking. I mean it's really just, it's hard,” she said.
Yet, Boerner knows the loneliness she feels this year is far less than the pain of losing a loved one. That moment is a loss she’s been part of for too many families in her community.
“When we have to call a family and tell them that their loved one has died and they can't come see them because of COVID, it's the worst phone call. I will never forget their faces and their reaction. It's something that's burned into my brain and will never leave.”
On top of those moments of profound pain, Allison has seen the hurt COVID-19 can bring even for those who aren’t infected, in part because she’s felt the heartache herself.
“We've seen a huge increase in patients with depression, and you know they're very, very isolated, job loss…this pandemic is not just about sickness, it's about a whole entire life changing event.”
2020 has been a life changing event hitting front-line workers harder than ever and an event Allison hopes we all can learn from.
“It’s not worth risking to have one more Christmas together. You want many Christmases to come. I'd much rather spend Christmas with my family next year than not have some of my family members here because of this virus,” she said.
But until then, she can only hope the zoom meeting this Christmas will be the last holiday she spends holding her screen tight.