Psychological Trauma: The Next Crisis?
June is PTSD month. Ironic, huh? Things are finally settling down out here in the NY/NJ area, and we’re about to experience what I believe to be one of the aftershocks of the Coronavirus; PTSD. And I’m talking medical professionals here, to be clear. Now don’t get me wrong; doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers in general, are a strong bunch of superhumans who have seen it all. Unfortunately, I don’t believe Covid-19 falls under the category of ALL. What happened during the height of this pandemic was unprecedented. Healthcare workers are used to dealing with illness and death, but this was at a much, MUCH higher rate than usual, and it was coupled with a severe breakdown of protocol and support. There was no preparedness, a lack of PPE, ventilators, rooms, and even beds for goodness sakes. People were dying alone in hallways without loved ones to bid them farewell! People came in seemingly slightly ill and within hours were no longer among the living! It was chaotic, it was frightening, and healthcare workers literally put their very lives on the line each and every minute they spent on a Covid unit. And to top it all off, many, if not most of our healthcare workers did not even go home to their loved ones at the end of the day, for fear of transmitting this monster virus. They quarantined alone, only to return to work the next day in order to rejoin the battle.
Speaking of battle, I think that when most people think of trauma, they think of something very violent. War time, shootings, car accidents etc. However, Dutch philosopher, Ciano Aydin, describes trauma as something that violates a person’s familiar expectations about his/her life and world, thereby sending them into a state of extreme confusion and uncertainty. Hello, Covid-19 pandemic. And to really pour salt on the wound there is a concept borrowed from the military called Moral Injury. Moral Injury occurs when an individual does something that goes against his firmly held moral beliefs. In healthcare that can be interpreted to mean that doctors or nurses are forced to go against their moral beliefs because of the business side of things. For example, what happens when there are not enough ventilators for the number of patients admitted? Which is precisely what happened! In this case, our health professionals were forced to make excruciating decisions. In essence; who will live and who will die. Do you have any idea what this does to a doctor or nurse whose very essence is ‘patient care??’ Healthcare workers are trained to treat the individual patient and suddenly they must make decisions for the greatest good?! This. Is. Madness. And studies in soldiers have shown that moral injury does not allow them to function normally on an emotional, social, and psychological level, and is found alongside PTSD. It’s a terrifying reality. We need our healthcare workers; our heroes in scrubs, to be healthy and whole. They deserve it!
And now that I’ve ranted, I wish I can plunge full force into the solution. But I don’t have the solution. And unfortunately, we’re on the cusp of something big. And not the good kind of big. We can be seeing record numbers of anxiety, depression, acute stress and of course PTSD in our healthcare workers. We need things to happen. Teletherapy exists, as well as meditation apps. People were so good to the healthcare workers; cheering for them each evening and sending so many food packages. These things all boosted morale. But more needs to be done. Today. And hopefully with the worst behind us, we can now focus on those that pulled us all through.
And with that I will sign off. Peace to you, my friends!