Following a March overnight shift in the emergency department at UW Health in Madison, nurse Mariah Clark walked outside and heard birds chirping for the first time in months.
"It made me inexplicably happy," Clark said.
After a year of reflecting on the traumas she witnessed while treating COVID-19 patients and losing her own loved ones to the deadly disease, the spring song prompted introspection about a life after the pandemic.
"I think this year people were more aware of winter as a season of death and spring as a season of rebirth," Clark said. "There's a definite feeling of seeing the twilight before dawn."
But even as she looks forward, Clark can’t help but process the past. People struggle to understand big numbers, Clark noted, even while she takes pride in being a "data person." But the 550,000-plus American lives lost to the coronavirus the United States — including more than 6,600 in Wisconsin, remain difficult to comprehend.
"I've lost track of how many of my close friends I've lost to COVID. I have to go back and check social media posts to remember, because there weren't any funerals to mark" their deaths, Clark said. "I've definitely lost count of how many patients I’ve lost."
She added: "I know that nobody who didn't deal with COVID day in and day out — constantly faced with it in all of its ugly truth daily — is going to ever really grasp what it was like."
That only heightens the importance of listening to stories from those who experienced the worst of the pandemic, she said. "I know that there are stories I will never forget this year. My own and other people's. So when people share, listen. It's worth it."
Outbreak Wisconsin is a collaborative project by Wisconsin Watch and Wisconsin Public Radio following Wisconsin residents as they navigate life during the coronavirus pandemic. The residents will contribute diary entries, in the form of audio, video, text, drawings and photos of themselves, their families and personal and professional lives. That content will be supplemented by interviews and digital content to provide a full picture of how the pandemic is affecting all aspects of life in Wisconsin.