Need to care for the carer, so that the carer can care for others

Submitted by FT
May 2, 2020


The current crisis has changed the delivery of care. Although necessary, this change is greatly impacting on the physical, mental and emotional health of frontline staff. There are many services that staff can avail off but more action is needed as the personal story of staff nurse Felix highlights.

The story

Due to the current pandemic we as a populace are fronting a new approach in the way care is provided in all areas of healthcare. Due to these changes and pressure this puts healthcare staff at higher risk of deterioration in both psychical and mental health. Most frontline staff are used to working under pressure and this alone can have an impact on one’s health. Nevertheless, this new environment adds to this density.

Some, people might think that nurses should know how to take care of ourselves. However, we are used to trying to help other people, and not necessarily thinking of ourselves, and as I became sick, that became very evident. For me, the one thing I have learnt from my experience to date in working on the wards and carrying out contact tracing is that I can’t do everything.  I am not going to be the person who is going to resolve COVID-19, I can help but only if well enough to do so. It took severe pain and prompting from family, colleagues and friends, for me to see a doctor. The pain in my head was so bad at one point I thought I was having a stroke but I still carried on regardless. Thankfully the doctor recognised that I was actually suffering from more than just an ear and dental infection but also stress and exhaustion due to the amount of work that I was doing.

The first few days I was off work I was so tired I spent a lot of time sleeping. My mind was very active though, and I was constantly thinking about work and feeling guilty. On the fourth day, I remember waking up in the morning, and the sun was shining outside, and I just felt different but I didn’t know why. On reflection, I now know exactly why I felt that way. It was simply because I give my body and my mind time to rest, I had time to myself, and didn’t have the pressure of everything that was COVID-19 related.  It was a beautiful peaceful feeling. I also returned to activities that helped me relax and unwind in the past like gardening and cooking. Sitting outside looking at all the flowers that I had planted as I drank a coffee and had one of the scones I baked, was truly therapeutic. Unfortunately, two weeks later I was also diagnosed with Covid-19. However, I firmly believe though that my previous time off from work aided my recovery from the virus and the overall impact it had on my health.

Therefore, it is important to remember that nurses need care too, and not only during this pandemic. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that, and furthermore it needs to be instilled in our students. I also work as a nurse educator, and a question I always ask my students is “can you tell me who is the most important person in your workplace?” A lot of the time the answer I get back is “the patient”. In fact, the students are shocked when I say no, as it has long been entrenched in the nursing that the patient comes first. This notion though is not healthy as you can’t help anyone if you are not taking care of yourself. That is why I tell my students that the most important person in the workplace is themselves, because in order for them to give the best quality care to their patients, they need to be in the best quality health themselves. So please, if any nurses, students or healthcare staff who are struggling, please seek help. There are so many supports available, and I know that in my own country our Health Service Executive and other educational organisations offers an employee and student assistance and wellness programmes. I reached out and got help, and I am now able to return to work refreshed, and mental and physically stronger. During this pandemic, the health of staff has never been more important, however, it should be a priority, not only now but always.

Author: Felix Toner