In the last four months, the corridors of the Youth Program have been opening up. The classroom is being used and youth are going to the gym. We are going on walks.
I have, as usual, been at work most days, taking five days off for a retreat and two days off while waiting for a COVID-19 test result. For all this time, the hospital’s inpatient units were open and the staff working but the corridors of the hospital, outside the inpatient units, have been empty. Many staff are working from home.
While there are days when I envy them not having to get up and come into work, most days I realize that I am the lucky one. I have not had to learn a different way to complete an assessment or conduct therapy. I have been able to continue to work with the staff I know when we see patients. I have conducted groups and art therapy and watched movie night.
At times, you can hear a snideness about the “ease” of working from home, the “safety” this affords. I do not have this envy. I had to work from home, on Zoom, for two days while I waited for a COVID-19 test and it was impossible for me to do. The clinical record wasn’t immediately available because of a poor internet connection. I couldn’t assess whether a youth was badly groomed or just waking up. I couldn’t be certain that the safety check I was doing regarding possible domestic abuse was truly private.
I was terrified.
I felt as though I could miss some important symptom or sign and what would I have done if any of these patients had needed their blood pressure taken?
I was thrilled to head back to the hospital when my test came back negative. I felt in control again.
It is said that one of the factors contributing to burnout is a feeling of loss of control. Three days working from home on Zoom and I had that feeling of loss of control constantly.
In fact, when I looked up the information on burnout that I usually send to people from the Mayo Clinic, I was shocked to realize that most of the factors that can lead to burnout could apply to either a virtual or an “in person” workplace during the pandemic. The pandemic has likely changed the balance of every healthcare workplace – within just a few weeks last March. On top of that, the workplace for healthcare workers continues to evolve and the degree of evolution has not slowed down. You might think healthcare workers would be used to the changes by now, but we are not. It’s difficult to get used to change when it never ends.
In the last few weeks, in conversations with colleagues from every discipline where I work, I have heard that the people who have been working from home will be glad to return to their offices. We are beginning to think about this.
I will be so glad to have them back I will feel like hugging them. But I won’t.