I went to war in the Middle East. I know the haunting look in the eye of nurses battling COVID.

In the fall and winter of 2020, as COVID cases rose quickly and every day seemed to set a new all-time high, nurses took to Twitter to post photos of themselves after working 12-hour shifts. Some used a version of the “How it started. How it’s going” meme: the first photo a smiling fresh-faced nursing school graduate, the second a worn shell, cheeks hollow and faces bruised from constant wear of tight N95 masks.

And most haunting, the look in their eyes. There is knowledge there, and a dried exhaustion that lies beyond suffering.