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Nurses- Expected to Care for Others, but Should they Neglect Themselves?

It’s 11:30 am. It’s a busy morning - getting patients ready for surgery, replacing IVs for patients that need it, and of course, getting patients their favorite snack - ice. I look down at my checklist and see there’s no pressing task for another 30 minutes except the most tedious of them all -- charting. As I begin to plan out my next few hours, I hear pacing footsteps that are getting faster and faster. I look up to see that it’s the charge nurse walking down the hall with a paper towards Another admission, I thought to myself. With a worried look on her face, she comes to me with a nurse brain sheet about a new admission but with a twist: they were a PUI (a person under investigation) for COVID19. We both knew what that meant.

The technical aspect of COVID admission is a tedious one. When a suspected COV19 patient comes to the hospital, the protocol of the floor changes. The original assignment changes - that nurse assigned to the PUI can’t have any other (non-PUI) patients. They must distribute their original assignment to their colleagues, who already have a lot on their plate. The protective gear changes - its layered gowns, N95s, and iPads for virtual communication. But it’s the emotional aspect that tends to be ignored.

There is an exponentially high level of fear, anxiety, and stress that comes with healing the nation during an unprecedented time. For 12 hours a day, nurses are exposed to various infectious diseases, especially those transmitted through blood and/or airborne. We follow protocols that have been thoroughly researched, but COV19 brought with it a fear-inducing element of the unknown, with the nation’s emergency preparedness being challenged day-by-day since March. As the media pushes the sympathetic “healthcare heroes” narrative, there is a heavy price to pay inside the hospital - protective gear shortages, patient influx, all in isolation. I knew that once I was done and the door was closed, the patient was alone. The line of communication is limited. There’s also a layer of sadness - knowing your patients can’t have visitors coiled with limiting patient interaction decreases the line of communication with our patients. Patient experience is at an all-time low, and so is our nurse’s mental health.

It takes a special kind of person to be a nurse, one that wants to be part of a person’s healing process. I find the most treasured moments are those at the patient’s bedside, helping patients at their most vulnerable. How do we still treasure those moments while being safe? How do we heal ourselves? Here are some practical tips to better manage the stress amidst COV19:

  1. Deep breathing: Studies have shown that increasing deep breathing during times of stress lowers your heart rate, which in turn encourages the nervous system to relax, increasing the sense of calm. Next time you feel stressed, breathe in for 2 seconds and breathe out slowly with pursed lips.

  2. Listen to your body and take breaks! You must be an advocate for yourself on the floor. We work strenuous hours, on our feet the majority of the shift. As nurses, we have a way of pushing through the fatigue to become more efficient. If you push yourself too hard to too long, your chance at burnout significantly increases. By taking a break, you are doing what’s best for not only you but your patients.

  3. Stay active: As healthcare providers, we are great at giving sound advice to our patients but tend to neglect them for ourselves. Take a nice walk after work. During your breaks, walk off the floor and have lunch in the cafeteria.

  4. Phone a friend: In a stressful environment such as the hospital during COVID, it's imperative that you talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Studies have shown that simply talking through negative emotions can significantly help in processing and healing. Talk to a family member or friend - it’s worth your while.

Remember, exercise self-compassion. This is not an easy time for anyone, but especially nurses as we are in direct contact with patients every day. Anyone that is going through psychological distress will experience some level of anxiety and stress. Listen to your body and give yourself permission to breathe.

Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop. – Ovid”

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