In response to - "handling the emotions – from fear to joy – stirred up by working during a pandemic?"
On weekends, I work as a supervisor in a tiny hospital in Niagara Falls, NY. There is a window that I like to stop by, just outside of the ICU. I can see the mist from the falls over the city. It's always there, no matter the weather or what is happening in my shift.
Today is my first shift wearing a mask. I'd forgotten how it feels, having been in administration for the last five years. Feeling your breath recycle itself against your face, adjusting and readjusting the straps, pulling it down when it rides up and hits the lower part of your eyes over and over, not being able to drink water freely, smelling the synthetic fabric, the constant pressure of it against your skin - it's hard. It adds a whole new level of stress to the already stressful vibe right now.
I also find myself washing constantly. My office, my hands, my desk, and I'm always wondering about things I touch, almost every thing - the telephone receivers I'm picking up when I get paged, rounding routes that avoid doorknobs, or if the virus can cling to the staffing papers I'm forced to carry.
I don't directly care for patients in this job. There is some relief in that. But that relief is constantly absorbed by guilt and worry that I should be at the bedside. Should I be? Is that my best use right now? Would I go if I was asked? Most of my thoughts are with these questions, and with concern for loved ones who are there already.
This place will likely not see huge surges or mass casualties. But it could, and if it did it would be disastrous. Leaders are trying to prepare, but in a resource-dry city that falls at the very bottom of county health outcome rankings already, how much can be done?
It is hard at the bedside, the absolute hardest. But it's hard here too, in administration. Hard to hear the fear in the voices of staff when they call to say, "We have a positive," to remain consistent when things feel utterly inconsistent, to guide and coerce towards vigilance without sounding alarm. It's also hard to be a team of one, responsible for so many during the off-shifts.
Smiling behind the mask feels like a challenge today, but maybe it will get easier with practice.