Caring for our Caregivers
Everyone’s talking about it. In fact, it’s just about the only topic of conversation throughout the world. It, being COVID-19; the novel coronavirus that has completely shut down our planet. And while most of the population is sheltered in place, there is a select group of people, or should I say, heroes, who are out there on the front lines doing everything in their power to treat those infected and save lives. YOU, my dear nurses, are our heroes!
Yaaay! Or rather, nay… To the outside world, the issues facing our nurses and healthcare workers range from lack of PPE to a shortage of ventilators, as well as the need to ramp up testing. But there’s an entire other aspect which isn’t getting nearly as much airtime as the physical problems nurses are facing. I’m speaking of the emotional toll this is exacting on our nurses caring for the sick and dying. Sure, the HCWs all ‘appear’ resilient and positive. But I can promise you this: Inside, they are crumbling. The smile you see? That’s their last line of defense. Our nurses are suffering. They’re crying more, they’re afraid, they’re watching people die like flies without ANY family at their side. They can’t even touch their patients to squeeze their hand or give them a hug. They’ve been forced to turn away loved ones whose only wish is to sit by their husband/father/brother/son’s side as he breathes his last. Nurses are caregivers. This goes against every grain in their body. And long after this is over, how will our nurses, doctors and healthcare workers move on from the devastation?? How will they pick up the pieces?? And this is where I raise my hands in defeat. I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. And while I can’t tell you what will be in 1,2, or even 6 months from now, I do know that there are steps nurses and all healthcare workers can take in the present moment to try and minimize the crushing emotional toll this monster of a virus has taken on our bravest.
1. As it turns out, PPE and emotional well being very much go hand in hand. Without the protective equipment, nurses are bound to feel vulnerable, and quite frankly, scared to do their various jobs. I’m aware that efforts are being made in this respect and that the lack of PPE is not as dire as it initially was, nevertheless, nurses should still fight for this, and in no way compromise on their protection.
2. Make sure you have someone to talk to. It can be a friend or family member with a good head on their shoulders, or you can reach out to a teletherapist. And do me a favor; look out for your coworkers. If any of them seem to be bottling it all up, or are reluctant to talk about their feelings, let them know that help is available to try and make things easier.
3. On this same note, the American Medical Association is offering free premium access to its Headspace App which is a tool to help professionals manage their stress and anxiety
4. Focus on the good you’re doing. No, you may not be able to get up close and personal with your patients or check on them as often as you’d like, but you’re doing a world of good and should be proud of your efforts. Frequent self-pep talks can take you a long way.
5. Allow yourself to take breaks. You need them, you are entitled to them, and will be a better nurse for it. So whether this means stepping outside for a few minutes of fresh air, finding a quiet, empty room to grab a bite in, or even taking the time to go to the bathroom; it can honestly invigorate you and give you the stamina to keep going another hour.
6. While this may be difficult to embody, try and focus your efforts on what is within your power to accomplish, and at the same time accept the situations you cannot change.
7. Remember: It’s okay to NOT be okay! You’re human.
In all honesty, the list can go on. And on. But there’s one thing the world needs to be aware of. It took far too long to start the conversation about the physical well being of our healthcare workers. Let’s jump the gun on the emotional aspect and make sure all you nurses are taken care of mentally. Stay safe and may god bless you angels in scrubs!