COVID-19 has turned hospitals into a battlefield and nurses into soldiers minus the bullet proof vests (PPE) and ammos (vaccines). Nurses are being bombarded with distressing scenes of suffering and death. Nurses are scared yet we continue to put our lives on the line.
These are just snippets of images about the life of nurses. Think about the tension contributing to the higher intensity of stress: longer hours, fatigue, patient fatality, and fears of being infected and infecting family, Nurses are being asked to do more than before.
Nurses need to practice self-care. Without proper processing and debriefing, the fatigue, both physically and emotionally, burnout, anxiety, and depression can take a toll on nurses’ resiliency. Without the resiliency, the mental, physical, social problems can lead to more serious psychosocial issues, such as PTSD.
PTSD happens when relentless stress is overwhelming and short circuiting your nervous system. The reptile brain then takes over creating the feelings of helplessness and sense of fear. There are ways for the neocortex to regain the control. The key is to reverse within a certain time frame to prevent memory consolidation.
Protecting nurses is now a personal and necessary goal. After the incident, I noticed that safety measures are severely lacking at the workplace. My observation was further confirmed (in an undesired way) when the same patient who traumatized me had injured 4 other staff.
Nurses need to be protected better. Nurses matter and we are not expendable. The primary objectives of the PTSD Clinic is to promote awareness of PTSD in nursing; identify nurses who exhibit precursors to PSTD; promote resilience building; and encourage nurses to talk . An ounce of talk is worth a pound of SSRIs.
I wish there had been someone who spotted the signs of PTSD in me early on. I wish I was educated on PTSD. I wish I explored and understood my change in behaviour. My hypervigilance, heightened fears, withdrawal from family and friends were consuming me yet I was unaware those were the signs of PTSD. My brain was overloaded with fear. I had since then fallen into the abyss of despair and frozen into helplessness.
Majority of us possess the resilience to restore our balance. My aim is to nurture and maintain that resilience within the nurses. When we put on our uniform, we place our patients’ needs above our basic needs and psychological needs. It’s true. How many of you have taken only one or no bathroom break during a 12 hour shift? How many of you keep going after a traumatic code blue? COVID-19 has further compounded our stress. Our 12 hour shifts are now a blur of witnessing harrowing sickness and making deep emotional connections with our end of life patients. Our body can only sustain a finite amount of stress. If left unaddressed, our resilience will be undermined, which will interfere with our ability to cope with our stressful work environment.
Nurses is no paragon for quality self care, both physically and mentally. Our incredible resilience acts as a double edged sword: we are able to defend against traumatic experiences; yet, we suppress the emotions and symptoms of the constant stress that we experience. There is an inherent sense of purpose within us to help the needed.
Lack of awareness of PTSD can lead to psychological injury. The feeling of having no power over your body is terrifying, frustrating, and debilitating. Ongoing education and early detection will enable nurses to preserve their mental well-being. Simple non pharmacological solutions are enough to prevent PTSD.
Nurses, let’s cry and scream together.
Cecilia is the Business in Vancouver Forty Under 40 award recipient.