After the man died, the nurse found a secluded hallway, and wept.
A few days later, she shared her anguish in a private Facebook message to Dr. Heather Farley, who directs a comprehensive staff-support program at Christiana Hospital in Newark, Del. “I’m not the kind of nurse that can act like I’m fine and that something sad didn’t just happen,” she wrote.
Medical workers like the young nurse have been celebrated as heroes for their commitment to treating desperately ill coronavirus patients. But the heroes are hurting, badly. Even as applause to honor them swells nightly from city windows, and cookies and thank-you notes arrive at hospitals, the doctors, nurses and emergency responders on the front lines of a pandemic they cannot control are battling a crushing sense of inadequacy and anxiety.
“As the pandemic intensity seems to fade, so does the adrenaline. What’s left are the emotions of dealing with the trauma and stress of the many patients we cared for,” said Dr. Mark Rosenberg, the chairman of the emergency department at St. Joseph’s Health in Paterson, N.J. “There is a wave of depression, letdown, true PTSD and a feeling of not caring anymore that is coming.”
Mr. Becker, 48, is himself the grandson of a bomber pilot and son of a Vietnam veteran. But his local has been hit by a dozen suicides since 2004, and he has become an advocate for the mental health of its members. To maintain his equilibrium, he works out and sees a therapist.
“The virus scares the hell out of our guys,” he said. “And now, when they go home to decompress, instead, they and their spouses are home schooling. The spouse has lost a job, and is at wit’s end. The kids are screaming. Let me tell you: The tension level in the crews is through the roof.”
Brendan, who asked for his last name to be withheld to protect his privacy, is a 24-year-old paramedic firefighter who works 48-hour shifts on the tough north side of St. Louis. His unit has been so busy running calls that he goes for long stretches without showering, eating or sleeping. He is terrified he might infect his fiancée and their daughter.
With no end in sight to the crisis, Brendan sought out a therapist.
“We are a lot quicker to be angry with each other,” he said. “Any little thing sends us over the edge. But among the older guys in their late 30s and 40s, it’s not OK to talk about things. So all anyone talks about is alcohol.”
Through Zoom group therapy, the crews have been regaining some semblance of solidarity as they unburden with each other, unmasked, through a computer screen, hearing everyone talk about similar struggles: Living away from families, to keep them safe. The smell of disinfectant in their clothes and hair. The clumsy haz-mat gear.
At 24, Ms. Burke has already worked in an intensive care unit for three years. She has loved the connections she made with patients and their families, but those experiences are now largely gone.
ChristianaCare, a four-state health system, began assembling such a protocol five years ago. The program provides group support and daily inspirational texts. Twice a week, doctors and staff meet senior leaders. It set up designated “oasis” rooms, outfitted with low lights, massage chairs and meditation materials, where stressed workers take a breather.
To address safety fears, ChristianaCare offers disposable scrubs, which workers tear off at the end of a shift. It also has a gratitude program, in which former patients return to thank their healers. At a time when so many Covid-19 patients are dying, such exchanges, said Dr. Farley, reconnect demoralized staff to “why we do what we do.”
For nearly a decade, Dr. Cohen and his wife shared their home with her parents, a practicing pulmonologist and a retired nurse, who often babysat for the Cohens’ children, now 8 and 11. But in March, both in-laws became ill with Covid-19 and were admitted to the hospital within a day of each other.
The guilt threatens to swamp him. What if he is the third person in this household to die?
After the shift, Dr. Cohen photocopies his notes, so there’s no risk he leaves with paper that might have coronavirus on it. He cleans his stethoscope, pens, goggles, face shield and the bottom of his sneakers with antimicrobial wipes. He does a surgical hand wash, up to his elbows.
This content was originally published here.