So much harm, hurt, distress, grief. So much death, so much dying. It’s hard to know what to write or whether to write at all. I’ve been thinking about things, and wondering, and sometimes it helps me to get these thoughts out of my head and on paper (screen). I said I’d put this blog to bed just a few short weeks ago. But sometimes, I have to write.
Over the weekend a few things have been running around in my head and they make me sorrowful but they also provide me with an opportunity to reflect and try to understand.
The old trope of nurse and doctor as superhero/heroine and angelic special being is alive and well. It is the overriding narrative of politicians and in all media, together with war metaphors and notions of fighting, of winning and losing. I’ve been wondering about the pressure this puts on health care workers. Being constantly heralded as superheroic and/or angelic with all the connotations of extraordinary capability that this carries is a substantial conscious, and subconscious, burden to bear.
In other emergency circumstances, in times of short-term exceptional response – the act of terrorism, the unusually large road traffic accident, the major incident of whatever type – the heroic/angelic descriptor sits more lightly. A few hours, a few days, most people are treated, set on a pathway to recovery, and the sudden pressures are lifted and life goes back to normal. Angel or hero for a few days may even feel appropriate and rewarding.
But now? When it ceases to be an ‘incident’ and becomes a new way of living, of working, of being at work? The only predictability is that more will come. Hard to see an end in sight. No intervention followed by prompt improvement. No ‘heavy’ days and ‘light’ days, just the relentless file of patient after patient, many who cannot be helped, the isolation, the deaths, the gentle handling of distraught and remote relatives. The overwhelming numbers and the overwhelming shock. No-one who ever entered medical or nurse training ever conceived that they would be required to handle this. Coping mechanisms become fragile, incomprehensible levels of stress become internalised and nailed down in order to carry on. To be the hero/heroine, the angel of expectations. The pressure must be unbearable.
On top of these come the avoidable things – confusing information, rapid preparation with little time to think through, false promises, inadequate protection for many, inconsistent leadership, frustration with what is meant to be the support system. And as the days go by, increasing fear. Fear for themselves, their families and loved ones, their colleagues. Frustration with a lagging support system becomes anger. Fear and anger – it’s a losing combination in terms of mental health and wellbeing.
So, it’s small wonder that we see people occasionally kick out. Under these circumstances being heroic and angelic is time-limited, it’s impossible to sustain every moment of every day. So, sometimes what might be seen as a ‘safe’ target for that fear and anger might be attacked. Politicians are a pretty safe target, and often deserving of the opprobrium and scathing comments. Sometimes those who don’t deserve it feel the heat of people’s anger. Maybe a boss, or a leader of some sort hits a bad moment and the response is unforgiving. On the basis of a perceived slight, a real or imagined sense of unfairness, bad timing, whatever it is – the responses are fast and fierce.
There is small comfort for anyone involved in this crisis. Everyday on my social media feed I see the ravaged faces, I hear the frustration, I see the anger. But I also see the compassion, the endless patience, the strength of commitment to doing the best job possible whatever the odds. No heroes. No angels. No heroines. No Superhuman beings. Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances doing extraordinary things. Whatever their role, whatever their level. And sometimes being fallible and sometimes being less than kind in their comments. In other words – being human after all.