There are signs that the healthcare industry is coming apart at the seams. There’s an extra toll on frontline staff in almost every medical facility, the nurses and doctors who treat a panicked public and those with symptoms of a disease that has killed over 100,000 in the U.S. One nurse, “Lisa,” was willing to talk about how surge after surge of the pandemic has affected her, her coworkers, and her family.
Are you seeing signs of burnout in your colleagues?
Yes, burnout is definitely occurring. And for those that were already experiencing ‘compassion fatigue’ prior to Covid-19, this experience has accelerated it.
What does that look like?
On a concrete level: Nurses call out sick. They may delay answering patient call lights. Not participate in staff meetings or organizational committees. Errors may happen more often. From an emotional standpoint: Lack empathy, appear depressed, short-tempered.
Are you feeling overwhelmed?
From a scale of 1 to 10, 10 meaning I am ready to leave nursing …. I am at a 5. It has been overwhelming but I am still able to carry out my duties at work, keep all my patients safe and be able to manage life at home. I am concerned about the next few weeks what it will be like though.
Has the past year had an impact on your family life?
Yes. As an oncology nurse, my organization has attempted to not expose me as often (I work Covid once or twice a month). When I have exposure, I isolate at home. I talk with my kids and husband via FaceTime and I do not physically sleep or eat near them for 72 hours and so far it’s kept them safe. Since March, I have taken my children for local walks, drive in movie, and an outdoor eating event at Knotts. No other travel.
Has your work/home balance changed?
My husband has been taking on more responsibilities (assisting my son with online school) and shopping, and preparing meals. Work demands has increased, which impacts the amount of energy I have when I get home to give to my family. Since March, I have been getting tested for Covid twice a month (this is from my own initiative) on my day off. I have increased my exercise/ reading/ listening to music to help manage the stress.
How has your relationship with patients been affected?
I find myself seeing a lot of fear in my patients, and it’s difficult to not have the time to help them through their emotions…especially the ones that do not have family or friends for support. The most vulnerable have been our dementia /alzheimers population. Keeping them safe as well as staff has been a great challenge, as this population does not understand the importance of wearing a mask, or staying in their room.
Who can you talk to about what’s going on?
Our organization has an Employee Assistance Program to address emotional health needs.
Are you afraid to go to work?
No. I am not afraid to go to work. This is what I have been trained for. I knew becoming a nurse, that one day I may have to put my own health at risk. But could the risk be reduced or prevented with some proper planning? Yes. And that’s what we are all upset about. These are things I am afraid of: I am afraid of losing colleagues to Covid. I am afraid we will run out of PPE. I am afraid we will run out of oxygen. I am afraid we will have to let people die when we didn’t have to.
What do you hope has been learned from America’s response to this pandemic?
I hope this pandemic has made it clear to all federal, state and local health agencies : We need competent leadership, which include voices from the frontline to contribute to public health policies. We need to follow evidence based policies that have seen success in other countries.We need domestic manufacturing of PPE from now on. All my PPE is from Asia. We need timely, accurate and truthful information.