I went into the hospital a couple of weeks ago to have my pacemaker replaced. The hospital I went to was eerily quiet, but the News had coverage of medical staff demonstrating in bigger population centers; drawing attention to their lack of access to the tools they need to do their jobs safely. Some of those people were angry, some were crying…all are doing their very best under extraordinary circumstances. They are all hyper-stressed and feeling desperately unsafe. Long, non-stop shifts of giving care to others on the ‘Front Lines of this Pandemic’ while at acute risk to themselves. Despite doing one’s best…many are being lost to death. The dying are cut off from loved-ones and the eye-witnesses to this long-term trauma are the medical caregivers. Serious stressors are at work – most are obvious, while others are a bit more subtle. I’ll bet ‘office politics’ are still alive and well within the work environments that the Doctors and Nurses are working in.
I was spurred into writing this after seeing a news item this morning that was pointing out an extremely sad situation in New York where a Doctor has committed suicide. The reporter commented that is was particularly sad because the Doctor didn’t have a history of mental illness. Hopefully the reporter would be the last person to get such a history from any source if it did exist – and suicide certainly requires no such history. Without having known this doctor, I feel quite secure in suggesting that her more recent history was one of selfless sacrifice, working as long and as hard as she could to provide the best of her medical services – a career that was no doubt fueled by this woman’s passion to be a healer. At the same time she was in a ‘hot bed’ of infection without the safety tools that she and her colleagues knew they needed to stay safe. Enough equipment (ventilators) to utilize on a rapidly growing line-up of patients was in short supply or non-existent. Normally, Doctors and Nurses command a great deal of control over their world. I think Doctors and Nurses are scrambling in a chaotic realm right now. Couldn’t this add up to be a recipe for a batch of gooey Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
We all have our limits…the tricky part is we don’t recognize the finality of that tipping point as we approach and pass it. I can’t speak for the Doctor in New York, but I can share that trying to simply push through and endure beyond my own personal limits led me down my own path of PTSD and ultimately I recall suicide looked pretty good for awhile. I only want to illustrate the commonality of means toward the same end.
I can’t currently offer my services to these caregiving groups in the traditional sense of providing training (face-to-face) because of this virus…but I can reach out with a few words to the wise. You are a unique community among the rest of us. Your credo is ‘How can I help you and I’ll do everything in my power to get you through this.’ At the same time, you are typically the last in line to accept a moment of real self-care, particularly in times of crisis. I’ll bet your logic goes something like this, “There will be time enough to rest when this crisis has passed.”
This pandemic is definitely a marathon so not all of you are going to be able to run non-stop without taking a breather. Just picture yourself in a real marathon…is there any shame in slowing down every now and then. These breaks are your chance for self-care practices (to fill the tank and check the oil). I’m talking about working on your resilience to stress so you don’t get run down so quickly. You will have to schedule your strategies into your routine and practice them often.
Caregivers – We are counting on you to be on top of your game. You can’t help me if you have lost your own health due to stress overload. I learned the hard way that ‘without your health, you have nothing’. It’s so true, and the climb back from that sort of loss was a long and hard one to make. If you are a caregiver…please schedule in a pause for the cause. If you know a caregiver…encourage them toward some healthful self-care and keep banging on those pots at 7:00 p.m. Thank them all!!
Psychologists, clinical social workers and counselors – is it appropriate to suggest an action of outreach to our front-line medical caregivers though Employee Assistance Programs or similar vehicles. The Doctor in NYC could have used some help a few weeks ago. There have to be others who are just hanging on by a thread. They are crying and angry on the News for heaven’s sake. Providing support now, before you are going to be really busy putting out individual brush fires later would make a lot of sense.