By Tim Hayes

The Pennsylvania Turnpike stretched out before them, mile after monotonous mile. But the drive had an absolutely therapeutic effect, somehow, each exit ticking off one more box closer to home. A place that, a few days ago, she couldn’t even let cross her mind without crying.

Molly worked as a nurse, a job she loved and studied hard to do as well as she possibly could. She came from a family steeped in medical professionals, from her renowned grandfather, a cardiovascular surgeon and pioneer, to her father, another well-known surgeon, and her sister, a physician in family practice. Taking care of people, then, came naturally to Molly.

But she had never anticipated the levels to which that dedication would be tested. She never thought about just how deep the well of her own internal courage and endurance would have to reach.

Until the pandemic hit. And hit hardest in the New York City hospital where she worked.

Hours, days, weeks all blended together, fading from one desperately sick patient to the next, an unending line of suffering humanity. All relying on Molly and her fellow nurses for comfort and attention, in between the doctors’ assessments and instructions. Equipment, what little of it they had, got stretched almost as far as the staff’s ability to cope with the tidal wave.

The unpredictability of the Covid-19 infection, coupled with the drastic and dramatic steps needed to keep patients breathing, to keep them alive – and the sheer volume of cases that kept pouring into the hospital – outpaced anything Molly or her compatriots in arms could have ever imagined.

When she had a moment to rest and recover, the wave of relief and sadness and fear about what she may have been exposed to nearly wiped her out a time or two. Or a hundred. But she – just like her friends and fellow heroes on the front line – continued to do her job with all the skill and dedication she could muster.

The worst part, always, came when a patient asked to hold her hand, or for some – any – human touch before the virus completed its awful work. Nurses traditionally do so much more than supply medicine or read beeping monitors. They offer personal comfort, through a touch or a smile. Molly found the toughest part of treating Covid patients came in not being able to bring such holistic healing, her natural instinct denied in the face of such rampant contagion.

Her fiancé worried about her, as did her family. And when her commitment to that hospital at last had been completed, Molly looked forward to coming home to Pennsylvania for a few weeks with her betrothed, before they moved on to another city where a new job awaited him.

So as the unending concrete of the Turnpike sped beneath their car, her fiancé at the wheel, Molly turned all of these thoughts over in her mind. The overwhelming emotion of working in the eye of the pandemic hurricane for months had slowly ebbed away. She didn’t know how much more emotion she had left in the tank anyway. Eventually, they reached the exit for home and navigated the final couple of miles.

Turning onto her street, a cul-de-sac with her home nestled at the very end of the line of houses, she noticed a shiny balloon tied around the mailbox of the very first address. “Wonder who’s having a party?” she thought to herself, then saw the husband and wife from that first house standing in their driveway, smiling and waving at her. Looking closer, the balloon read WELCOME HOME!

Molly waved back, smiling, and a little confused. “Gosh, wasn’t that nice?” she said to her fiancé. Then she saw the couple from the next house standing in their driveway, holding signs and sporting a WELCOME HOME balloon too. Glancing down the length of the street, every single neighbor had arranged the same greeting, little kids clapping, balloons at every address. All for her.

The nature of a true neighborhood, come to life, and all in appreciation of the epic role she had played back in New York. Long before the car reached her home’s driveway, where her Mom stood waiting, Molly found the emotion she fretted had been depleted, and wept wonderful tears of appreciation, joy, and love.

Well done, Molly. Welcome home.

Copyright 2020 Timothy P. Hayes