Healthcare Workers, Hospices, Deathcare Workers~ 7 Recommendations for Taking Care of Yourself

I received the email below after I posted the blog, “By Taking Care of Ourselves We Can Be a Light.” I am sharing the email because it is a reflection of so many of our healthcare workers. I keep shouting from the roof top to hospitals, hospices, home health care agencies, and nursing facilities, “TAKE CARE OF YOUR PEOPLE!!!!!” How can we expect healthcare workers to continue caring for others when no one is addressing their needs?

Dear Barbara, I work as a hospitalist primarily in an oncology and palliative care unit.  I am drawn to end of life care and have had an intense but extremely rewarding career. However, over the past year things have changed. As a hospitalist we all rotate through Covid units. I am comfortable with end of life care --it's my calling in medicine. But covid death is different for me in so many ways. Also, the high patient loads, the increased stress, working short handed when coworkers get Covid, the preventable (by vaccine) deaths, the constant background anxiety is finally taking its toll. I feel unbelievably burned out. I am not finding joy in my work that I have always loved. I feel like I have lost my passion and am becoming less able to focus and put the energy into the work I have done without any problems for years. I came home (two hours late) and received your email about self care. It was so needed. I wanted to thank you so much for the work you do. You touch so many lives. Tonight you touched mine. Thanks for your kind thoughts. They really helped, although as I write this I feel rather hopeless that this whole situation can get better. I certainly am going to try. I am going to take a shower and try to wash away the stress. I realize I need self care. I just need to figure out how to do it. You have given me a place to start.

Here are just 7 recommendations for taking care of yourself:

* Find a listener to download your thoughts, fears, and concerns with.

* Create some form of release for the stress you carry: Journaling, video recording, walking, yoga (I know, who has time with work, and then the need to just crash and stare at the walls).

* Cleansing ritual: Immediately shower upon return from work and visualize washing off all the energy you carry from work—sadness, fear, exhaustion, anger-- down the drain so you are “clean” to recoup and re-energize (even if it is just to go to bed. Particularly if it is to just go to bed.)

* Recognize your grief. We are grieving not just the deaths we see and are involved with. We are grieving the loss of our normal, the loss of our time, the loss of our relationships, the loss of our fun and joy. 

What can healthcare employers do to support their workers? 

* Start offering support groups, on the individual floors at the end of each shift. Just a 15 or 30 minute get together to check in on each other, to talk “It was so hard being with Mr. S. I felt—-." “How is everyone doing today? Do we need to talk about anything?” “Know we are here for each other as well as being here for patients.”

* Have social workers/chaplains available for private support. Offer appointments for private conversations.

* Be creative. Let me know your thoughts for other ways to help each other. 

As my husband says, “This too shall pass.” I always respond with “But what do we do until it does?”

Something More about... Healthcare Workers, Hospices, Deathcare Workers~ 7 Recommendations for Taking Care of Yourself

Some of the recommendations here are in my DVD Kit, Care for the Caregiver and my booklet, You Need Care Too.  With national hospice month here, watching the dvd at a special appreciation lunch for the team would be a lovely idea. Then give each team member the booklet.  Caring for our staff means that our patients and families will be served better~ and isn't that our goal? 

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Doug Delhay

In my years of working in hospice as a chaplain, bereavement coordinator and also as a pastor of a local church, I often turn to practical examples to help people sort out and compartmentalize their problems and stresses. Using the example of getting a flat tire on a busy street during rush hour and not having anywhere to turn off of the road (no stress in that!), I talk through the process of compartmentalizing the several issues involved in such a situation. Without going into the details, my point is that when we can compartmentalize the different segments, we can more easily break out the solutions one part at a time making it easier to cope with each component separately. It helps make a bad situation more manageable and helps one understand what they do and don’t have the power to change. Fear and dread cloud the decision making process from the get-go, so they need to be identified as quickly as possible. Coping is a skill that is difficult to master and is best learned when in the heat of the battle. But it is a victory we can each experience if we realize that it is within our reach.
BK Books replied:
Hi Douglas, thank you for sharing. We need all the tools we can find to travel this road of living. Blessings in the work you are doing. Barbara

Ellen Davis

Your husband was on que. He reminded us that there is an end to all this madness re: pandemic. There is somethig very comforting in that statement. To know we will get through all this. Yes the in between is difficult at times but finding strength in knowing how much we have endured and pride with all the caregiver s out there.
Bless them all for they are the angels among us.

Jack Paleczny

I am a lifelong caregiver, as hospital chaplain and in retirement as spouse. My wife has Parkinson’s and related dementia.
One difference now is that my “shift “ never ends.
We do live in a residence that offers meals, housekeeping and various activities and we have a PSW for two hours twice a week for shopping, appointments, and walks outdoors.
I also have a camera connected to smartphone so I be away from our suite while she is resting.
Still, the concern, the stress is constant. Every moment is couched in a thought of what does she need now and later, what should I be doing now for her. “I am dancing as fast as I can.”
And I’m not the only one. In our residence there are about eight couples where men, many even less prepared than I, are caring for wives with dementia. And in Covid times we were/are cut off from family and friends and even one another, as our wives’ needs get greater.
BK Books replied:
Hi Jack, I am so sorry to hear of the challenges you are facing in caring for your wife, yet I am not surprised. Our medical system does not address the needs of caregivers as our Boomers age. It is a 24/7 responsibility in caring of someone declining in physical and mental health. Please take care of yourself as well as her. Blessings to both of you. Barbara

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