What a time for reflection! As I was knitting yesterday, my mind wandered over the events in our world. I could see parallels in training for a running event. The outcome is largely dependent on preparation, or lack thereof; as well as the mental component and dealing with ego. It’s the journey/training – that’s where the important stuff happens.
Do I tend to overreact? Probably, especially according to a few people. Let me share a bit of history. I became a registered nurse in May 1981. In June 1981, the first US case of AIDS was documented. At the time, wearing gloves for patient care was frowned upon – to the point (at least where I worked) of shaming the nurse for wearing them. Gloves were for surgeons. Think about it – all of us health care workers were cleaning patient’s bodily fluids (and solids) with bare hands (that were washed frequently and often dry and chapped at best). As the concern for the unknown AIDS spread, gloves finally became acceptable, as well as the use of other personal protective equipment (PPE). That contributed, I am sure, to the prevention of spread of many other illnesses at the time. It is a standard component of healthcare now – known as “universal precautions”. Shortly after I started working, I experienced my first patient death. I found him in bed, not breathing. As I was taught, I started the CPR sequence and called the code. On the first compression, (I had trouble getting breaths in) I was surprised by a literal geyser of blood spray. (You guessed it – no glasses, face mask, or gloves. That wasn’t acceptable.) He had esophageal varices due to alcoholism and a host of other diseases.
A couple years later, working in pediatrics, I had another experience that illustrates the need to be proactive. By this time, isolation procedures were more widely used – especially in the pediatric population (think meningitis, infectious diarrhea, chicken pox, etc.). I was the shift charge nurse, and it was a quiet night. We were notified of an admission – a little guy with fever of unknown origin. This was a fairly common diagnosis, so no big deal. I chose to do the admission instead of assigning it to someone else. I was developing a pretty decent “gut instinct” by this time – and it told me to isolate this child. He had a faint rash, but otherwise appeared to be a happy, healthy and very hungry little boy. Long story short – the rash progressed very rapidly and he deteriorated even faster. Six hours later, he died. After our shift, all of us that had been in contact with him went to a 24/7 pharmacy to pick up prophylactic medication that we were on for several weeks. Autopsy revealed that there was nothing we could have done to change his outcome, although he was likely very contagious before he even got to the hospital. Fortunately, I listened to that “God whisper” in my ear and protected the other patients on our unit from what could have been devastating for them. This didn’t make me a hero – it meant that I over-reacted to symptoms, and ended up being the right thing to do.
Since then, I have known the concerns over MRSA and VRE – both infections that are resistant to many antibiotics; the concerns over hepatitis, influenza, RSV, H1N1, Swine Flu, SARS. When these were relative unknowns in healthcare, there was fear and anxiety. Some people (just as we are seeing now) criticized the “over-reacting” behaviors of isolation, use of PPE, immunizations, and distancing. I wonder if it ever occurred to them that those very acts decreased the impact of the disease and gave us the tools we need to manage these entities now? Was it really over-reacting if we accomplished our goal? We saved people and resources. Those measures that were shamed or criticized as over-reacting are now part of our infection-fighting toolbox.
My healthcare career is minor, I really get this. I haven’t had extreme experiences, but I have longevity (yeah, I’m old!). We’re going to learn a lot from this.
One of the big lessons for us is ego. The part of us that says:
- It won’t happen to me. (Why not, you don’t have an impervious shield of protection?)
- I’m young – I won’t get too sick. (No, likely not. How many people will you infect though?)
- God won’t let me get it. (God gave you brains, intelligence, choice, and other people with other gifts to offer guidance. Use ALL the resources he put in your life.)
- I don’t have time for this. (Make time for your health (as well as your family’s health) or you will be forced to take time.)
- It’s just over-reaction, it’s an election-year thing, it’s a conspiracy…whatever your excuse is. Great – just cling to those! Get real – this is here and it’s going to be here for a while. Whatever the cause, you can’t hide your head in the sand and think it will go away.
- I don’t want to change my plans (wedding, vacation, graduation, etc.). In the grand scheme of things, is it worth the risk? Sacrificing a couple months? Saving lives?
It is my sincere hope that we WILL be accused of overreacting, and the impact of COVID 19 will not be severe. Although, to anyone that loses a loved one to this virus, the impact has already been severe. Realize this – it is the overreacting that will lessen the impact. I covet the opportunity to hear you say to me “I told you so”. Let me clarify my idea of overreacting: NOT hoarding supplies! It is by social distancing, by staying home for a couple weeks (YES, in spite of the economic impact), by cancelling events and non-essentials. Hand washing, normal, reasonable infection control measures.
Getting through this, controlling the virus and developing treatments and vaccines, those are victories. There are many collateral victories we can make happen. Learning from this experience, developing new technologies and techniques. Some of the biggest will be the smallest, though. Being good humans, caring for each other however and wherever we can. Sharing our gifts and abilities. This will bring out the best in most people, and the worst in some.
Give yourself grace. God’s grace is already abundant. Acknowledge your fears and concerns, realize that others share those same feelings. Build each other up, share joys, check on each other. Use this moment to shine!
Personally, I find that committing to get some kind of physical movement is very helpful. My daily walks have now become two walks. Knitting is soothing. Cooking is a way I can help us be healthy.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed. Take a breath, focus on something good, wash your hands (but conserve toilet paper 😊). Pray (meditate, send good vibes, send good karma – whatever your thing is) – often and a lot. You’ll have time. And think of all the stories you can tell future generations. Mostly – be a good human and make God proud!