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Could this be Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Covid-19 - a psychologist's reflection on week one of social-distancing.

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This has been a whirlwind of a week. Ever since our President addressed the nation on 15 March, I feel like I’ve been eating, sleeping and breathing Covid-19. I’ve appeared on television, radio and interviewed by several national newspapers. I’ve used my social media to spread awareness and education every day. In my quest to promote social distancing, I forgot to be still. It was interesting – here I was encouraging everyone to be still, to stay home, to practice caution while remaining calm, yet I was too busy on my mission to pause, breathe and reflect on what I was feeling.

My patients have been more anxious than usual. I was consumed by doing everything I could to encourage others to flatten the curve. It wasn’t easy. I witnessed two extremes around me – panic and indifference. On one hand there were those stockpiling on groceries; on the other, I drove past fully-packed restaurants where patrons seemed oblivious. I kept going. The week flew by and almost feels blurry.

Today I started to be more mindful. I felt frustrated at those who refused to practice social distancing. I was easily irritated at things that I exercised patience with before. People are complaining about things that seem trivial at this time. The memes and jokes are now triggering – I cannot find anything funny anymore. My heartbeat has been faster than normal.

As I greet colleagues in the hospital corridor, something is different. We exchange smiles, but I see something hidden behind the smiles. Could it be fear? It feels familiar. The worst is still to come. We are trying to learn from what we have seen in Europe. But, not everyone is taking the social distancing seriously. We wonder what lies ahead in the days and weeks to come. We worry about whether the healthcare system will be able to cope. I see nurses, bravely doing their jobs, but knowing that any day now, life will change.

I see healthcare professionals selflessly preparing for the mammoth challenge that lies ahead – a challenge like we have never experienced before. Life will not be the same in a few days. What of their families? The fear is palpable – of not having adequate resources, of not being able to to save every single life, of infection, of their families’ safety..the fear of uncertainty.

Tonight as I reflected on this, I happened to read a piece by Dr Alison Block in the Washington Post, and it immediately made sense. I had a name for these feelings – pre-traumatic stress. We have a good idea of what’s to come. Sadly, not everyone has.

We will soldier on, each using our special gifts to serve, educate and look for silver linings. The only way to be effective right now is to remain mindful. To appreciate life as it is at this very moment – it is soon going to change. Remaining mindful keeps us in the present, focusing on what we can do now – knowing that it will set the tone for the future.

We prepare for the worst while hoping for the best – appreciating today while looking forward to the day I write about how we got through this and what we have learned.

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