By Lucy Osborn MACN (ENL)
This column, The Scrubs that Fit, is all about the highs and lows of being a junior nurse, from the perspective of an ACN Emerging Nurse Leader. The aim of these blog posts is to help ease the transition from university to grad years and beyond. Find Lucy on ACN’s neo and on Instagram @aussie_nurses.
Have you got ‘the COVID guilts’?
Symptoms include feeling guilty for:
- going to work
- calling in sick for work
- having hay fever or allergies
- sneezing or coughing
- buying groceries or toilet paper
- seeing friends
- not seeing friends
- worrying too much
- not worrying enough.
It seems to me, no matter what I do I manage to find a way to feel guilty about it. There are currently so many stressors in our lives that are completely out of our control and every time I concur one issue another one pops out of nowhere. The way I manage this anxiety is to explore the root of the feelings and see if I can fix it. Take calling in sick for work as an example. I feel guilty leaving my ward short when I only have a slight sniffle. I manage this by understanding my decision will protect my peers, patients and in the long term is for the greater good. I go to my clinic, get a swab and return to work if it comes back negative and am symptom-free. There is no denying I still feel bad, but you need to commend yourself for doing the right thing.
In this article, I want to share you with some situations over the last few months where I have experienced ‘the COVID guilts’ and highlight how I managed them. These are really challenging times, particularly for those of us going back to lockdown in Melbourne, but please know you are not alone in experiencing these feelings, we are all in this together.
One of the biggest challenges is feeling guilty for being sad or depressed. I know that I have an ongoing income, a safe house and a network of support around me, which is more than a lot of people have. But that doesn’t mean my feelings are not validated when I’m feeling sad over so many abrupt changes in my life such as not being able to meet my nephew who is now 6 months old, see my mum who’s been unwell or do any of the external moral boosting pleasures I enjoy.
When restrictions started to ease a few weeks ago, I went on a date with my partner. He took me to an adorable boutique restaurant in Melbourne and due to restrictions, there were no more than five people in the restaurant. Dinner was beautiful and the company was great, but it was so hard to relax. I felt like I had to focus on following all of the new rules and felt bad when crossing the social distancing lines with him, even though we live together. What was worse was when I woke up the next day with a mild headache until I remembered that we had a cocktail with dinner. A few glasses of water fixed that right up, however, I still felt guilty about not getting tested just-in-case.
Whilst getting into the habit of sanitising your hands as you enter a restaurant is easy for us ‘pro hand washers’, some of the other ‘quirks’ as I like to call them are much trickier to apply. For example, I recently came across a teenage girl and her dad stopped on a bike path after the girl had fallen off her bike at low speed. She was laying with her knees up and flat on her back and the dad explained she had toppled over for no apparent reason. It was obvious by her pale face and starry eyes she likely had a vasovagal and there was not a lot I could do for her other than reassure and assess. Although some fainting episodes are usually harmless in young women, I still had multiple concerns for this girl. The situation was made extra tricky as I did not want to get to close to dad or the girl as they could be unwell and were probably not too keen on a health care worker overstepping the social distancing rules for some minor first aid. I overcame this dilemma by doing as much of my assessment visually (IE GCS, colour and respiratory) as I could. For the one or two things I could not resist doing I asked her dad if he would mind finding her radial pulse for me and check if it is a strong and regular beat. This simple assessment was enough for me to confidently keep my distance and ensure the safety of the girl, her father and myself. Whilst the dad was on the phone to the girl’s mum, I was chatting to her about her health and found she previously had these episodes and there are other precipitating factors that influence when she has them. She eventually was able to sit up and walk to her mum’s car and I was thanked for my help, but I felt like I had not done much for her.
It seems like a good news story, but it highlights how limited we as nurses are in the community during COVID-19. We are bound by our Good Samaritans Law but are also not required to put our own health at risk. Programs like Good SAM and First Aid responders are being put on hold and will likely return in a very different format. It does put us in a sticky situation but remember every assessment starts with D for Danger, never put yourself at risk.
My takeaway points from this article for those of you experiencing anxiety around COVID-19 are:
- If you feel guilty, find the cause. Understand why you feel this way and fix it if you can. Otherwise know you are doing your best.
- Protect and look after yourself during this time, we cannot do our service to our community if we are sick.
- Lastly, reach out to one another. For those back in lockdown in Melbourne, check on your friends and family. We all need support.