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Nurses Begin Trauma Recovery from COVID-19: 5 Ways to Cope

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jeastridge jeastridge, BSN, RN (Trusted Brand)

Specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

What coping mechanisms have helped you during the COVID-19 pandemic?

COVID-19 has been hard on nurses. Now that we are beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel, we are reflecting a bit on the trauma of the last year. Our hope is that we can help one another process and heal from any trauma that might possibly have occurred.

Nurses Begin Trauma Recovery from COVID-19: 5 Ways to Cope

Amidst the havoc created by the pandemic, nurses have been a steady influence for good. Our profession continues to represent caring and compassion, ministering to the sick in difficult circumstances, and doing our best to preserve dignity and respect for those who suffer and for their loved ones. Nurses have risen to the occasion and led the way in compassionate care. But, at what cost? As the pandemic abates, we begin to see co-workers facing and processing the trauma of this year of COVID-19.

Hopeful signs

The pandemic is certainly not behind us but there are hopeful signs that the increases are abating and that mass vaccinations are taking hold to break the grip of the virus on our nation. Worldwide, the situation remains perilous and we simply hope that the vaccine will continue to be effective and give the global community relief.

Slow Process of Recovery

The deleterious effects of the pandemic are well-known: death and disaster all around. The USA alone mourns the loss of 550 thousand people, each a person who leaves a space to be filled with grief. With known cases at 30 million (possibly many more undiagnosed), we have a sizable portion of our population directly affected by the virus. Currently, about 10% of the total adult population in this country is fully vaccinated with about 1/3 having received at least one shot. We see signs of progress but aligned against these words of hope are the threatening presence of variants and the risks of letting our guard down too quickly. 

The Trauma of the Pandemic

Nurses experienced a variety of traumas from the pandemic.

  • Losing patients even with the best care possible
  • Being overworked and having to push through intense fatigue
  • Facing political and social upheaval with our country and communities divided on how to approach the virus
  • How to treat it and how to prevent it

On all fronts, nurses were right there at Ground Zero, dealing with all of it in the best way they could, all the time keeping to focus on advocating for and doing our very best to provide exceptional care every time to every patient. 

Back to Normal? How?

As we see glimmers of "normalcy" we begin to process the trauma of the past few months. Sleeplessness, general anxiety, and disruption of routines contribute to many mental health issues. How do we best cope?

Acknowledge it was hard

We cannot move on and dismiss. Sometimes we have to sit with our troubles and turn them over and analyze them a bit to find a way to process. To deal effectively, we might need to first offer each other the space to say it was hard. How can you and those around you feel safe in discussing the difficult times of treating patients with COVID-19?

Talk about it

There may be one particular death or story or time that keeps going through your mind. Talking about it with a professional or a trained listener can help in dealing with a troubling time. Mental health professionals acknowledge that verbalization can help consolidate and reconcile disparate memories. Who might you enlist for a confidential conversation about specific traumas of the pandemic?

Notice if you are having trouble

Are you sleeping as well as you used to? Are you struggling with difficulty concentrating? Are you feeling low or "blue"? Sometimes we need to permit ourselves to not be OK. And to get help. When we go through traumatic times in our lives, the trauma doesn't go away afterward. It is still there, living in our minds. We have to find ways to work with it and to talk about it and incorporate it into our new, post-pandemic selves. We may need to seek out professional treatment and encourage each other to do so.

Revisit old routines

This may be a time to take back some parts of life that were disrupted: revisiting exercise routines by going back to the gym (if safe), or resuming evening walks, or volunteering at the animal shelter. What is the old routine that you want to restart?

Re-engage

You may be depleted professionally after the pandemic. The weariness may be making you wonder about moving on to a different line of work. While it may be time to explore further, it may also be a good time to take stock, to re-build professional interest, and to re-connect professionally. This could be the perfect time to engage in a learning activity online. Learning can rejuvenate and re-ignite our passion for our profession. How can you re-engage with nursing in a meaningful way?

Whether you work in a COVID ICU, a health department, an ED, a school, a testing site, a mass vaccination location, every nurse has experienced the pandemic as it approached, surged, and now subsides. We have all dealt with our version of trauma. As we acknowledge and process our trauma we can take hold of lessons learned and move forward, even better professionals than before. 

What is Your Experience?

How are you dealing with your experience during COVID-19? Can you share some of your experiences and how you are processing your trauma?

Joy is a Faith Community Nurse who enjoys writing, spending time with her family and learning new things.

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18 Comment(s)

gere7404, BSN, RN, EMT-B

Specializes in Emergency Services, Cardiac Step-Down. Has 5 years experience.

Am I the only person who didn’t think it wasn’t all that bad? 

the early days, our hospital was a ghost town. Staff was either mandatoried off because they thought they got exposed  or they took voluntary time off because they didn’t want to risk being exposed. I got TONS of overtime with super easy patients because most people were more scared of covid than the heart attack they were having.

by the time covid actually hit our area, I had switched departments to the ER and saw hundreds of covid patients; the vast majority of them could have stayed at home and taken a Tylenol. Maybe 1 out of 10 got admitted for new need for O2, couple got bipap and very few were tubed. Had one hospice pt come in from a nursing facility who died on me. I ended up getting covid myself from work and had to use three days of sick leave because they wouldn’t clear me. Very mild sx, nowhere near as bad as what flu does to me.

I know my experience is anecdotal, but I just didn’t see the end of the world death plague everyone else seems to have gone through. 

jeastridge, BSN, RN

Specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

2 hours ago, gere7404 said:

Am I the only person who didn’t think it wasn’t all that bad? 

the early days, our hospital was a ghost town. Staff was either mandatoried off because they thought they got exposed  or they took voluntary time off because they didn’t want to risk being exposed. I got TONS of overtime with super easy patients because most people were more scared of covid than the heart attack they were having.

by the time covid actually hit our area, I had switched departments to the ER and saw hundreds of covid patients; the vast majority of them could have stayed at home and taken a Tylenol. Maybe 1 out of 10 got admitted for new need for O2, couple got bipap and very few were tubed. Had one hospice pt come in from a nursing facility who died on me. I ended up getting covid myself from work and had to use three days of sick leave because they wouldn’t clear me. Very mild sx, nowhere near as bad as what flu does to me.

I know my experience is anecdotal, but I just didn’t see the end of the world death plague everyone else seems to have gone through. 

I'm glad your experience was generally not traumatic. I think that is one of the aspects of COVID-19 that has made it so hard--the unpredictability of it. With 80% of people recovering without sequelae and 2% dying, it is just hard to know what to expect. And fear can lead to trauma. For nurses, many have harder experiences to report, including difficult working conditions. 

ppfd, BSN, EMT-P

Specializes in ED, Critical Care. Has 12 years experience.

Hasn't effected me one bit. 

I had covid back in December and guess what! I am alive and well typing now!! I did get 2 weeks paid off so that was great. 

I work as a prison RN, at its height, we had 250 out of 500 female inmates with the 'vid. Zero admits to a hospital and zero deaths............ 

If it wasn't for the media and politics driving fear, this would be business as usual. 

Save your responses as well because I don't care. You are entitled to your opinions same as I am. Just as the shot and getting your "papers". I don't care if you get them or not. My GF hounded me into getting the shot, so I did to shut her up. She's a CT tech and the 'vid as well. Not sure about #2 as it will interfere with trip plans I have and I don't want to be sick from it. 

So I will ask, can I get #2 after the 4 or 5 week deadline? 

And for something supposedly free, why did they want my insurance information? I told them I had no insurance. 

3 hours ago, ppfd said:

Hasn't effected me one bit. 

I had covid back in December and guess what! I am alive and well typing now!! I did get 2 weeks paid off so that was great. 

I work as a prison RN, at its height, we had 250 out of 500 female inmates with the 'vid. Zero admits to a hospital and zero deaths............ 

If it wasn't for the media and politics driving fear, this would be business as usual. 

Save your responses as well because I don't care. You are entitled to your opinions same as I am. Just as the shot and getting your "papers". I don't care if you get them or not. My GF hounded me into getting the shot, so I did to shut her up. She's a CT tech and the 'vid as well. Not sure about #2 as it will interfere with trip plans I have and I don't want to be sick from it. 

So I will ask, can I get #2 after the 4 or 5 week deadline? 

And for something supposedly free, why did they want my insurance information? I told them I had no insurance. 

Your words make it evident that you don't care. Is that your typical presentation?

How unfortunate that prisoners must tolerate health professionals who don't care in addition to their incarceration. 

Crojo1501, BSN, RN, EMT-B

Specializes in ED, SICU. Has 2 years experience.

I'm glad many nurses didn't experience the wrath of " covid" or got covid " and are still alive", for some patients and healthcare workers are not alive today. It doesn't surprise me that some nurses believe it is a hoax or it is  just the "FLU". Last time I checked, flu doesn't give you Sp02s % in the 20s or 30s.  

 Reality is, covid hit many areas of the U.S differently. My area got destroyed by COVID, our ED was full of  positives and PUIs. Non- covid patients were seen in outdoor disaster tents. Intubations/ BIPAPS left and right, codes, daily EMS bypass.  I am know working in a different unit, the other night, I was almost assigned a COVID-19 patient and something weird overcame me. In my head, I  began to panic a bit and got palpitations, never has this happened to me, not even under the worst of covid times. 

 

gere7404, BSN, RN, EMT-B

Specializes in Emergency Services, Cardiac Step-Down. Has 5 years experience.

2 minutes ago, Crojo1501 said:Last time I checked, flu doesn't give you Sp02s % in the 20s or 30s.  

 

 

Try the sticky probe, the finger probe can have difficulty sensing

never saw an spo2 that low, saw hundreds of covid pts. Saw like a 76% once and that was as low as they got. Most were still in the 90s, below 92 we admitted them for a day or two. 

Crojo1501, BSN, RN, EMT-B

Specializes in ED, SICU. Has 2 years experience.

1 hour ago, gere7404 said:

Try the sticky probe, the finger probe can have difficulty sensing

never saw an spo2 that low, saw hundreds of covid pts. Saw like a 76% once and that was as low as they got. Most were still in the 90s, below 92 we admitted them for a day or two. 

We only use the sticky probe to the ears with a reliable pleuth. I would say that is a pretty reliable sp02. legitimately in 20-40% in some patients. 

nursej22, MSN, RN

Specializes in med/surg,CV. Has 36 years experience.

11 hours ago, ppfd said:

 

So I will ask, can I get #2 after the 4 or 5 week deadline? 

And for something supposedly free, why did they want my insurance information? I told them I had no insurance. 

You can wait up to 6 weeks to get #2. 

Yes, the vaccine is "free" (actually paid for by the federal government) but providers can charge insurance an admin. fee. 

I am glad you recovered without sequelae. 

CrunchRN, ADN, RN

Specializes in Clinical Research, Outpt Women's Health. Has 25 years experience.

It is interesting that so many different people had such different experiences.

emtb2rn, BSN, RN, EMT-B

Specializes in Emergency. Has 21 years experience.

My area got crushed last Spring and we’re getting swamped again. Doing a lot of high flow nasal cannula. For those who didn’t see much of covid, good for you. We opened a 2nd covid unit last week. We’re much better at treating it so intubation is the last resort. 

emtb2rn, BSN, RN, EMT-B

Specializes in Emergency. Has 21 years experience.

16 hours ago, gere7404 said:

Try the sticky probe, the finger probe can have difficulty sensing

never saw an spo2 that low, saw hundreds of covid pts. Saw like a 76% once and that was as low as they got. Most were still in the 90s, below 92 we admitted them for a day or two. 

We have soft rubber probes that fit snugly & are very accurate but I prefer the sticky ones for tenacity. 

I have seen quite a few spo2 readings in the 40’s. Readings in the high 60’s are common. Had a pt Tuesday that arrived 74% on 2 lpm nc. Didn’t bother with finding out what room air was. Front door, not ems. 

Edited by emtb2rn

jeastridge, BSN, RN

Specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

20 hours ago, Crojo1501 said:

I'm glad many nurses didn't experience the wrath of " covid" or got covid " and are still alive", for some patients and healthcare workers are not alive today. It doesn't surprise me that some nurses believe it is a hoax or it is  just the "FLU". Last time I checked, flu doesn't give you Sp02s % in the 20s or 30s.  

 Reality is, covid hit many areas of the U.S differently. My area got destroyed by COVID, our ED was full of  positives and PUIs. Non- covid patients were seen in outdoor disaster tents. Intubations/ BIPAPS left and right, codes, daily EMS bypass.  I am know working in a different unit, the other night, I was almost assigned a COVID-19 patient and something weird overcame me. In my head, I  began to panic a bit and got palpitations, never has this happened to me, not even under the worst of covid times. 

 

Thank you for sharing your story. It sure is a lot to process. And you are right. COVID affected different hospitals and different locations very differently. Like you, most of us will need some time to recover. Joy

NRSKarenRN, BSN, RN

Specializes in Vents, Telemetry, Home Care, Home infusion. Has 44 years experience.

Used to working with vents since 1979.. My husband had Pulmonary HTN, despite 8L oxygen, would still dip into 60's regularly, once to 34 spo2 --applied Triligy vent +10L Nasal cannula in mouth to resolve. He died a year ago, April 1st  at home  post 2 years palliative care support, at the start of the COVID pandemic.    The worst time I had working on a Respiratory/telemetry unit was 3rd code and death in 2 days, was granted next day off to decompress from the emotional stress.

Can only imagine stress in dealing with this on a weekly basis caring for multiple COVID patients, dealing with inadequate PPE, wearing mask 12 +hrs/day, multiple codes with frequent deaths, face timing families so they can say goodby --- that's what many nurses dealt with this past year --- so PTSD  is the lived experience of many nurses.

 

Been needlepointing up a storm the past year, as my way of destressing; pulling threads though canvass is soothing along with arranging colors and stitch types to create stunning design.  Supported a women owned small business too!  Keep masking up!

 

jeastridge, BSN, RN

Specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

13 hours ago, NRSKarenRN said:

Used to working with vents since 1979.. My husband had Pulmonary HTN, despite 8L oxygen, would still dip into 60's regularly, once to 34 spo2 --applied Triligy vent +10L Nasal cannula in mouth to resolve. He died a year ago, April 1st  at home  post 2 years palliative care support, at the start of the COVID pandemic.    The worst time I had working on a Respiratory/telemetry unit was 3rd code and death in 2 days, was granted next day off to decompress from the emotional stress.

Can only imagine stress in dealing with this on a weekly basis caring for multiple COVID patients, dealing with inadequate PPE, wearing mask 12 +hrs/day, multiple codes with frequent deaths, face timing families so they can say goodby --- that's what many nurses dealt with this past year --- so PTSD  is the lived experience of many nurses.

 

Been needlepointing up a storm the past year, as my way of destressing; pulling threads though canvass is soothing along with arranging colors and stitch types to create stunning design.  Supported a women owned small business too!  Keep masking up!

 

Thank you for your comment. So sorry for your loss. Your approach to de-stressing is inspiring. It has been a tough time...Joy

KiusLady, ASN, RN

Has 2 years experience.

I worked as a COVID nurse for about six months. It got a little too much for me (not so much because I was losing patients - I was in a department that took care of *stable* COVID patients); it was the staffing (lack of), the constant policy changes (sometimes several w/in the same shift) and the general lack of support from administration after the pandemic had been trucking along for a while.
I switched departments and am now in MH. Liking it much better.

COVID is still very much a thing in my hospital, but things are slowly easing up thanks to the vaccine. We just started allow visitors again, but that could lock back down again at any moment if we get another surge in our area.

RN-to- BSN, ADN, RN

Specializes in SCRN. Has 7 years experience.

Caring for the COVID patients while trying to avoid bringing it home is certainly a struggle but I would not call it "trauma". I have been thru worse things. That being sad, it takes a mental toll, and depending how resilient the nurse is, it can affect mental and physical health.

Definitely talk to someone about it.

What irks me, is the hospital's big wigs hailing us as heroes from the comfort of their desks, and now... chastising us for multiple re-discovered problems, such as incomplete stroke documentation, increase in pressure ulcers, falls, etc. We were short-staffed for MONTHS. Of course there was not enough helping hands to turn, ambulate and PROPERLY care for the patients for MONTHS. Now, we've gone from hero to zero. Great job. In come endless trainings assigned, audits and checklists for us to complete.

We have gone form max 50 COVIDs in 128 bed hospital to 6. I think it's great.

Now, if only I could have some wine, it would be even better ( but I'm preggo, so not yet).

jeastridge, BSN, RN

Specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

6 hours ago, RN-to- BSN said:

Caring for the COVID patients while trying to avoid bringing it home is certainly a struggle but I would not call it "trauma". I have been thru worse things. That being sad, it takes a mental toll, and depending how resilient the nurse is, it can affect mental and physical health.

Definitely talk to someone about it.

What irks me, is the hospital's big wigs hailing us as heroes from the comfort of their desks, and now... chastising us for multiple re-discovered problems, such as incomplete stroke documentation, increase in pressure ulcers, falls, etc. We were short-staffed for MONTHS. Of course there was not enough helping hands to turn, ambulate and PROPERLY care for the patients for MONTHS. Now, we've gone from hero to zero. Great job. In come endless trainings assigned, audits and checklists for us to complete.

We have gone form max 50 COVIDs in 128 bed hospital to 6. I think it's great.

Now, if only I could have some wine, it would be even better ( but I'm preggo, so not yet).

You make some great points: "hero to zero." Yep. Happens a lot, doesn't it? Cheers for your pregnancy! Hope it goes really well. Joy