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Caring is Complicated


About a year and half ago, I sat beside one of my oldest, dearest friends after her brain surgery. Specialist after special specialist came into her room at Yale’s prestigious research hospital; they left quickly after asking questions. I noticed the techs or the nurse’s assistants checked on my friend the most. I thought, “I want to do that.”

After working in various health advocacy groups’ communications offices for nearly twenty years where I’d help doctors and healthcare professionals’ presentations sound smooth or simply make their research shine, I moved to direct patient care.

I took classes, passed all my tests, and trained hands-on with patients. I worked at people’s homes and worked at a hospital until I left in mid-February. The hours were long and I had started dreaming about patients at night; I’d sleepwalk around our bedroom while I helping the patient-figments. I was taking my work home more than ever; I was upset by how the hospitals jammed the depressed and mania patients with all the rest.

So, I requested less hours just before the virus hit. HR stared at my lips and told me it was full-time (and then some more hours) or the highway. So, I gave 2-wks notice and left. It’s important for caregivers to look after their own mental health, too.

During the shut-down, I often felt guilty that I wasn’t helping patients or a healthcare team.

Of course, I was lucky to wait out the storm in the safety of my own home, but I knew working during a pandemic would rob me of sleep. I would think about all our insufficiencies at my previous place of employment (not just the lack of PPE). I’d drown myself in observations of death and our expensive modern medical care. The system isn’t made for hearts, it’s made for numbers. What is billable and trackable? The patients' pain scale, their blood pressure and their glucose level - rarely does a professional ask how a patient feels about living for another day.

The COVID-19 cases and deaths have stalled in our area, making me think it’s time to go back to work. The hospitals are not hiring as they laid off people since the peak, so I’ll likely seek to work in someone’s home. I enjoy listening to someone’s needs and helping them feel a little bit better. Hospice or post-surgery care, seeking balance in giving good care and being able to leave my thoughts at their door.

Caring for others is a calling and caring for yourself is complicated.

Read more from e.b. Howell:

As Much as I Care to Remember

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