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.
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?
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?