I interviewed several frontline essential healthcare workers willing to talk to me candidly about their experiences – two RNs (registered nurses), an APN (advance practice nurse), a hospital administrator, and a mental health counselor.
Based on these interviews, here is what we need to know, and what we need to do, to support our COVID-19 heroes.
CONTINUE TO THANK ESSENTIAL HEALTHCARE WORKERS
All the providers I spoke with expressed a deep appreciation for the gratitude they have received in many forms. Some from their communities–chalk drawings on their driveways, offers to help with kids, one even mentioned her neighbors were hand-making masks for her (enough to share with her peers) after posting on a community page. Some from related agencies–one affiliate company buying 100 lunches for the hospital staff, managers shortening hours while maintaining pay. There was some from leadership–giving praise, acknowledging the sacrifices; and many (sometimes most importantly) from the people for whom they care–texts of thanks, words of gratitude.
These acts, large and small, keep them going back into the “viper pit” (as one provider called it) day after day.
VALIDATE THEIR EXPERIENCE
Ask them if they are ok. Acknowledge how hard this must be. Recognize that they are choosing to take on something each and every day that many of us have the benefit of hiding from. Understand their guilt for having to work while their children are at home trying to navigate cyber-school. Know that their relationships and schedules and sense of safety are getting disrupted. Their own lives are essentially on hold. Be aware that they worry about the health and safety of their patients all day long. See that they are carrying around the anxiety of almost every individual they interact with because they are the rocks on which we lean. Our essential workers are the ones comforting the dying when their family members can’t be there. Validate that this is a heavy load.
REMEMBER THAT THEY ARE HUMAN
One provider described being “treated like she had the plague” because people see the scrubs and assume she is infected. Family members have withheld children from them. Looks of disgust are received at the grocery stores. Even though our essential healthcare workers know that this is happening due to the fear of the unknown, it can still hurt. As all humans do, they need people – their people. Also, they are fearful for their own health, “I won’t ever stop being scared,” each one said they were even more worried about the health of their patients and their loved ones, “now more than ever.”
These individuals have trained their whole careers on proper procedures. Trust that they are not putting you at unnecessary risk. Although they may appear to be superheroes, remember they are human and that they have the same fears and anxieties, and need the same love and support that we all have and need.
HOW CAN WE CARE FOR ESSENTIAL HEALTHCARE WORKERS RIGHT NOW?
In their own words, here’s what your essential healthcare workers have to say:
- “Be patient, be understanding, be compassionate, be appreciative. Let us get caught up on our rest. Give us whatever we need mentally/emotionally to deal with this.”
- “Please understand we are scared too. Your well-being is what we think about all day! We are afraid to bring this crap home to you. Also, we are not careless with your thoughts, feelings, or health – so please don’t be careless with ours!”
- “Loved ones of health care workers can support their family members by trying to take care of everything on the home front.”
- “Please provide extra space for processing and talking and engage in those little thoughtful gestures even more, do things around the house before your partner/roommate/sibling/etc. has a chance to do it.”
- “Just love and support us! Be a soft place for us to land at night and try to make life at home as un-stressful and routine as possible”
THEY WILL NEED US “AFTER”
All of our providers agree that there will be a lot of trauma as a result of this experience, despite their heroic ability to do this work right now.
This may result in the need for some of our current essential healthcare providers to find new careers. Support that choice.
Some of their relationships may fall apart as a result. Help them pick up the pieces.
Some may need significant time to recoup and reset. Allow that.
Some may need to talk to a professional to process this unprecedented experience. Encourage that.
THE GIFT OF HOPE
Just as we are negotiating this pandemic together, we need to extend support to our essential healthcare workers. But not just now, beyond this time as we all work towards healing together.
As one of our providers stated: “The work we’re doing is just a reminder that life does continue on and will after this.”
Another example of how our essential providers are the ones who give us hope. And, according to Robert Ludlum, hope is the only thing stronger than fear.
By: Nancy MacGregor MA, ATR-BC, LPC, ACS, Clinical Director