Over two months after the peak of the COVID crisis here in NYC, the fallout is starting to become more and more obvious among my colleagues in the ER. We tend to be a stoic battle-hardened bunch under normal circumstances – but the experience of attempting to treat patients during the pandemic seems to be breaking even the strongest among us.
It’s becoming clear there will eventually be a mass exodus of healthcare workers traumatized by what they saw and were forced to do, by the feeling of utter helplessness in a mass casualty event. I’m beginning to hear docs I work with talking about “exit strategies.” Many nurses I’ve worked with and admired as role models for years now possess an eerie “1000 yard stare.” There’s a photo of myself taken during the height of the pandemic where the disassociation in my eyes is haunting and obvious.
This, BTW, is how I will look for the next several years at work, until there’s a reliable vaccine. For 12 and a half hours each shift no one will ever see my face again. I can smile but no one will know it. It’s difficult for patients and colleagues to hear and interpret what I’m saying because of multiple layers of PPE. It’s like trying to administer care in a scuba diving suit under water.
I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the whole thing yet. I’ve learned not to ignore internal trauma, yet I also understand that healing and perspective take time and work. Sometimes a lot of both – the mind works and heals at its own pace.
The biggest mindfuck for me is knowing my job could kill me. But I counter this thought with the fact that this is what I do – and besides, nowhere is safe. At least at work I have protective gear.
This is just the new reality. At the end of the day we have no choice but to adapt. At least in my job I can attempt to help others in need.
So there’s that.