Christine Korol quick talk front line health care professionals
You have already been working with front line health care providers – doctors, nurses – how are things different for them now?
Everybody’s gearing up while they can, knowing it’s the calm before the storm. It’s hard working around colleagues as they get more anxious. There’s a lot of talk of death, and getting wills in order, fear that they’re not going to have enough protective equipment. Worrying about having to make difficult choices. Worrying about having to care for colleagues who get sick.
I’m hearing all kinds of things right now that health care workers are afraid of. Both from colleagues and patients who might be health care workers that I’m seeing. I work in a lot of hospitals too, myself, so I have a lot of friends there.
As we’re moving toward providing pro-bono psychological services to front line health care workers, what advice would you give psychologists who take this on as they’re making that first contact?
Listening, and asking what exactly people are worrying about. Typically what I’ve been saying at the start of sessions is “there are so many things to be worried about with COVID-19, what are the particular worries that you have? What’s been hard? What’s been stressful? Because it’s not the same for everyone.
I don’t go in assuming that they’re worried about moral distress about making decisions for patients, when they might be worrying about their own safety. You might be surprised at what they’re worried about. This is going to be rapidly evolving, and typically what’s traumatic for people are not the things you would expect. Doing a lot of trauma work myself, I’m always surprised at what causes people to feel bad or guilty.
So asking them to give a good detailed description of what it is that’s stressful for them now. I’m a cognitive therapist so I go looking for ‘hot thoughts’ – what they’re thinking, and then pause and maybe say “I want to stop you – so you think it’s your fault that this went wrong with this particular patient?” So I’ll go looking for places of guilt.
I’m doing a lot of listening now and there are not a lot of people who hear what health care workers are dealing with. They’re going to be grieving, they’re going to be traumatized, and it’s not something they can talk about with friends and family. It’s even going to be hard to talk to colleagues about it because they won’t want to upset anybody else. So therapy can be the one place where they can really have those open and detailed conversations about the things that are causing them distress.
As you said, it’s rapidly evolving. Presumably what’s worrying people today is not what’s going to be worrying them a week from now, or two weeks from now.
Yes, everybody’s kind of mobilizing and getting ready at the time we’re doing this interview. In some areas of the hospital I’m hearing that, for example the ER is very quiet, and the regular public is basically staying away. So it’s eerie and strange, and then it’s going to get busy really fast. Then we’re seeing photos from New York. I saw a photo of a group of nurses in New York wearing garbage bags for protective gear. We’re going to see more images like that and health care workers being really upset.
I’m also right now seeing health care workers being really upset with people walking around and not caring – not listening to physical distancing recommendations. That’s been the theme of the week, actually. Not just with health care workers but I certainly hear that a lot, you know, “don’t people care?” So it’s very hard for them to see that.