As international vaccination programmes reach more people and largely COVID-19 numbers begin to reduce, organisationally, many of us are now once again seeing and using terms such as ‘Covid recovery’.
The Covid recovery we ought to be discussing at length, though, is not our business continuity plans, nor our return to business-as-usual plans—but rather, our own personal journeys to recovery. Historically, as rare as a global pandemic is, it is no rarer than paramedics worldwide, actually answering the questions honestly: ‘Are you okay, how are things?’…myself included.
Covid, for all its tragic consequences, has again given space to an important conversation about our personal and professional wellbeing, resilience, and response to overwhelmingly challenging emotional labour, from paramedic to director.
Recently, in a meeting of professionals, we were asked: ‘Are you okay, how are things?’ Very few, if any at all, spoke up, but rather stayed silent…myself included. Not even positive answers were offered—just silence behind turned off cameras. People—myself included—hiding behind and proffering running jokes such as ‘Oh we don't ask that question here’ or ‘We don't want to break anyone by honestly asking that do we?’
In reality, the screen was filled with the faces of people who were not okay and were not doing well…It was filled with the faces of people who had spent much of the last year working tirelessly and sometimes to the detriment of their own health. It was filled with the faces of people who had been having anxiety attacks behind FFP3 masks or supporting those who had been. It was filled with the faces of people weighed down by the burden of every hand held, and every piece of bad news delivered. It was filled with the faces of people overwhelmed with the sense of expectation from those staff for whom they feel a profound sense of responsibility. It was filled with the faces of people quietly managing their guilt at not having met those expectations. It was filled with the faces of people struggling to come to terms with the priorities and decisions they had made in times of response. It was filled with people's faces recently seen more by their colleagues rather than their families. It was filled with the faces of people struggling with anticipatory grief for their colleagues, staff members, and friends. It was filled with the faces of people recently experiencing the loss of just those people. It was filled with the faces of a lot of quiet people…myself included. We often hear people speaking of the ‘Big Green Family’. Yet we also do so much to neglect that family by neglecting ourselves. But as we can now vaccinate against Covid, we can vaccinate against its long-term effects on us all by planning our personal Covid recovery.
Wellbeing is an ongoing agenda, but we must first make sure that Covid does not leave a negative indelible mark. We must plan effective debriefs, clinical supervision and structured wellbeing support sessions, team reflection sessions, and plan to engage with longer-term wellbeing agendas at a personal level with rest and recuperation.
There will be times when we don't share our feelings and there are times when we don't want to share our feelings—and that is fine, some of the time. However, we must really start to focus on ourselves, our health and our needs, as well as those of our patients. We must begin to talk more openly. We must show strength by also showing our vulnerability. We must be honest with ourselves…myself included.
So in response to the questions, ‘How am I, and am I okay?’, the answer is…No, I'm not okay. I'm struggling with a few things and I am utterly exhausted. But I'm getting better at sharing how I feel and accepting the solution being shared with me by those supporting me. How about you? How are you? Are you okay? Honestly.