IPCWell - Infection Control Consultant & Expert - United States

This is a bit of a different blog than what I typically write, and perhaps more personal. Today, I was reading an American Journal of Infection Control article “Exploring stress coping strategies of frontline emergency health workers dealing COVID-19 in Pakistan: A qualitative inquiry”. I have been identifying my own ways to cope with the stress that I have experienced. It has been a little over a year since I received my first phone call from a nursing home stating they didn’t have PPE to care for their residents. They had no gowns and their distributor said they couldn’t get any. The nursing home was caring for residents with the Clostridioides difficile infection, another infectious disease that requires wearing isolation precautions such as gloves and gowns. The clinical nurse drove around their rural community trying to purchase something, anything to help protect the healthcare workers from this disease. While searching for a solution, the staff duct taped black garbage bags together to make their own gowns. Something, anything was better than nothing. After I spent 24 hours making dozens of phone calls and sending countless emails, including to my colleagues at the CDC, finally the county health department was able to deliver 2 cases of gowns.

Little did I know or could have ever imagined that this would turn into my “normal” life for the next year. Fighting for supplies for the nursing homes, fighting for staff, fighting to keep residents healthy, fighting against the current state and federal regulatory system. To say it has been a long hard fight would be an understatement. I’ve been in over 100 nursing homes during this pandemic and can’t even count the number that I’ve helped virtually. The stories that I hear every day are filled with pain, stress, and anguish. Nursing homes don’t call me when they’re doing good so perhaps my point of view is skewed, but you could say that I’ve been smack dab in the middle of this horrific scenario.

The AJIC article describes how frontline emergency workers have coped with the stress from COVID-19 and among the most common have been avoiding social media and the news, not retelling the horror stories to loved ones, depending on their religious faith, and leaning into their passion for humanity.

So, how do I cope? How are the front-line workers coping? How are we doing mentally? I too had to put down social media early on as it was too painful to read commentary from people that thought the virus was a hoax or not as bad as it was being portrayed. I even had to avoid certain family and friends due to this notion. I’ve definitely leaned more into my faith and spiritual practices to get me through each day and having the unconditional love and support from my beloved husband and children have truly kept me moving forward. To all the superhero healthcare workers out there: We have done this together.

 Thankfully, the vaccinations are beginning to show their effect and the rates of COVID-19 are declining. I am seeing the decline personally in my nursing homes and across the country. My phone calls and emails are shifting from crisis to recovery. I’ve actually been home for more than 10 days in a row. I find myself taking short breaks and lying outside in the sun, taking in deep breaths, and leaning into peace. Listening to the birds chirp and playing with my 2 dogs and cat. I’m making outdoor lunch dates with friends with a boundary not to talk about the pandemic and my husband and I recently enjoyed dining at a nice restaurant outdoors. I am grateful for this small restorative opportunity even though there is still much work to be done. We must remember what we have gone through and use this crisis to change how we deliver healthcare to our most vulnerable patients. 

I am grateful to all the healthcare workers out there in this fight, and I am hopeful that our darkest days are behind us. Be safe and be well.