Being a healthcare worker is my superpower, something that I am good at and advocate tirelessly for my nursing profession, and for those that help us with our jobs. With the overpowering emotions that I was feeling from the words being announced that “COVID-19 is here in the States” many emotions began, starting with denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance. Then it came quickly came to me, these are the stages of grief, and the thoughts of massive loss that we will encounter over the next few months wasn’t the nightmare on TV in another land, it was coming right for us.
For me, the denial was thinking the virus was only staying in China. Though it was terrible, people were probably making this out to be a big-nothing deal as usual. Something we do so well as a healthcare worker, we can handle anything, especially with our protective equipment! As the viral wave hit Europe, it was inevitable. It was coming right for us. Living in Orlando, Florida, we have tourists coming here from all over and knew that was spreading right to us. Calmly preparing, getting my “hurricane” supplies at the beginning of March, the news hit a couple of days later…it was here.
Taking it all in, seeing my fellow healthcare workers and first responders on a typical day, knowing how what was about to happen was going to change our country forever. Independence running fiercely through our veins, Americans will not back down. This can either impede an effort or cripple us. It was becoming more noticeable, the influx of people rushing into the ED for minimal reasons, the panic was starting to set in, for some, not so much as the younger folks as infallible as they are. It was almost like time was standing still and seeing the future, trying to bargain it to be okay, that is was all hype. Just wash our hands, everything will be okay, and don’t forget to buy some toilet paper.
Not being a huge TV person, especially the news, I tuned into credible avenues of information and let that guide my decisions. Deeply depressed by knowing that nurses, all health professionals, and first responders are heading into the lion’s den without the protection that we all have seen staff wear in China, that we were about to have massive casualties alone just with frontline caregivers. How our pleas are loud yet not heard. Healthcare workers and first responders put their work clothes on and went after the fear that was ahead, knowing that this could be the last month of their life. Not having proper protection to care for patients was not what we signed up for, as a soldier would not be sent into battle without a weapon. This was not what they taught us in nursing school, as this is just a bad dream.
As we embark on this mission of selflessness, resulting in isolation to aid our communities, we must accept and not forget those that we have already lost and what is to come. Many of you reading this may or may not be nurses or even in the medical field, but know that the stages of grief, are necessary and we are not immune. It is okay, even for the bravest and stoic to grieve, that crying is not a weakness but a way to help release the emotional pain one is feeling. The next few months are going to be rough on all of us, that will change our mental well-being and even cause trauma to a varying degree. Whatever you do, know that these stages are natural and healthy, you must experience them to be resilient and grow.
You are not alone. Please check in with your healthcare worker friend or family member, even neighbor. They may need that friendly conversation. If they are a danger to themselves, please take them to the ED or call 911. If you or know a healthcare worker that is afraid, isolating, or needs to talk, please ask them to join our group for support, Nurses Against Violence Unite, we are open to all healthcare workers. Together we can make the difference. Nobody should feel left behind.
We need to 1st talk about how much violence is occurring on the floor, whether it be working in a skilled nursing facility, an assisted living facility, or a hospital setting. The American Nurses Association stated in 2018 that out of 14,000 nurses that answered an anonymous surveying system, 62% stated that they were verbally and physically abused. As a backup to this report in 2019 Bolvin, wrote an article with the American Nurses Association revealing one in five nurses have been physically attacked. These were the only statistics that I could find when working on my doctoral project, with a radius of 30 years trying to find theories, recommendations, and work that pointed to a solution. The biggest problem that was identified as the great depth of how nurses and nursing staff felt how it was not in their best interest to report or that the patient didn’t mean to hurt them.
The most widely spread statement was violence was a part of the job. How could this even be? I was taking a real long look at my career starting over 29 years ago, as a nurses aide assistant climbing the chain to a certified nurse assistant to an ER tech working 15 years knee-deep in bedpans, juggling priorities and the most frontline of all of the health care workers in a health care facility. The expectations of the nurses assistant to have 20 to 30 patients to clean, feed, walk, or even Help the nurse with extra tasks would be almost impossible. When we started in these various positions, we were told this is the way it is. That our jobs were not that important, and a dime a dozen; at $4.25/hour in 1992, I would beg to differ! Most of the time, my whole team, nurses included wouldn’t be able to take a break to attend to the basic human needs because we did not want to feel like we were neglecting our patients or disappoint our employers. At times, I couldn’t get out of my car from the pain I had lifting and turning patients in cranking beds.
How do we know when we have reached our limit? A nurse and the staff caring for the injured, addicted, or those suffering mental illness, the passion runs deep and has invested not only a significant portion of our lives to fulfilling our nursing mission, role, but it is a personal investment as well. We have been forced-fed beliefs of “deal with it”, over a long period of time, along with lack of resources such as supplies, care for patients, and forced to have to care for your patients by yourself, whether they are combative or a total care patient or not. Regardless of the level of care, is a significant safety concern for the patient and the staff caring for them. Is it really staffing or is it conditioning the mind to think that this is OK and the new reality of what you should be expecting throughout your career? Dollars over adequate care. When will we say enough is enough, we are advocates.
Recognizing our limit is when either it’s too far gone and hopeless that we accept what is happening. Learned helplessness has not been explored in nursing as psychology and nursing have been regarded as two different subjects for so long, yet the great nursing theorists have tried to disclose issues, but mental health is not regarded as a priority in the nursing education system. They are two totally different professions? This problem has been conditioning nurses from the very beginning before even starting nursing school that lab values and transactional nursing have more priority, while holistic methods with person-centered care are disappearing. How can we identify the violence within if we have no clue what it is or acts like? The closest thing out there and worded backwards is that de-escalation is the key to a safe work environment, no preventing the problem is!
These are some of the things that we are changing every day with the organization Nurses Against Violence Unite, Inc.™ As our mission is to change the culture in nursing and all health care facilities through bringing awareness, educating, empowering, and eliminating violence in the workplace. Changing the face of health care and nursing is not going to change overnight, as we have to align and be the change. Change within the system is a process that requires a significant focus on building relationships, have healthy coping mechanisms, such as; laughing, activities, social groups that are positive, healthy eating, and identifying when we need to take a break.
These can be beneficial to break the stress level that the healthcare professional is experiencing. Every day, the nursing staff comes forward to discuss issues that they are facing, which includes collective statements of learned helplessness, how the team is stretched, and given high expectations from there employers while being told that they are not doing a good enough job. De-valuing the ones that are making the difference is a wrong business move as the nursing staff is the backbone of healthcare. To identify the problem of violence is one thing, but now is the time to break the cycle of violence, starting from within. Please help me help our healthcare community to heal for not only our patients but also for ourselves and our families.
If you are looking for more support, please visit us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/NAVUnite/