Everyone needs their own plan to manage stress. My plan involves having soothing cups of tea throughout the day. For a brief period during the pandemic, my hospital gave out free tea, coffee, and beverages to staff. I loved it! It was as if I was being reminded deliberately to remember to take a break. Others enjoyed this also – I remember the eager look on the nurses’ faces as they left the unit quickly to grab a quick cup of coffee. For all of us, it allowed the tiniest bit of stress management during a long day.
Soon, some of the youth programs where I work will be starting back with some face-to-face sessions – unless we have a resurgence of COVID-19. I have been thinking about how we can provide daily encouragement as a program to everyone coming into the hospital. They will be wearing masks, meeting staff in masks and will be socially distanced. Of course, I am asking my patients about this.
“Doctor Beck, I can’t wait to see you in real doctor clothes – like a mask and those gowns. We’ll have to take a socially distanced selfie and tweet it!”
I always point out that we can’t do this, that it’s not private. I will get a few responses, but the most common one is:
“Okay, but can I show my friends? You’ll be in the mask and gown and I’ll just say that you’re my personal psychiatrist.”
I remind everyone who thinks this: “I don’t actually wear a gown often.”
“Oh,” they say, clearly disappointed. “Could you get one?”
For many days, I wondered why everyone seemed so keen on the gowns and personal protective equipment. The answer was clear:
“When I hear that you’ve been wearing a mask, and when you wouldn’t see me in person, to prevent COVID-19 infection, I liked the idea of you keeping me safe. I knew you cared. Knowing you cared made me realize that you really were trying to help me.”
As usual, my patients have helped me to realize the most important part of our reopening strategy. We must show patients that we care.
Doctors and nurses and everyone in health care must demonstrate unequivocally when patients come back to programs that we are working to keep them safe and well. The mask we wear will help with this, but so will a description of all the recommendations that we have for mental health safety and prevention. Often, in the past, in many of our programs, we would have sat with a cup of tea or a glass of cold water with patients.
That will be more difficult now, but we mustn’t forget the protective power of those endless cups of tea anymore that we would forget to wear our masks.