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VOICES: Kelly Riedesel // A firsthand look at the pandemic’s effect on medical professionals

Kelly Riedesel is the wife of a long-term care facility RN in Buncombe County. She lives in Asheville, NC. This is a contributor-submitted Voices piece. Want to join the conversation? We invite you to write for us. Learn how to share your voice here.

The fight against Covid-19 continues, and it’s getting very long and hard on our medical professionals. In the beginning of the pandemic, businesses and community groups were sending special care packages to medical providers to cheer them on and show support and appreciation. People were out on their balconies cheering medical professionals every evening. People were checking in with their friends in the industry to see how things were going and if they needed anything. It has been over eight long months now, and I’m seeing the need for that kind of support much more desperately now. For medical professionals at long-term facilities, the struggle is particularly difficult.  This has always been low-paid, difficult work. Now, it’s downright scary.

Here are some of their challenges:

  1. Many long-term care facilities are short staffed because staff are sick with Covid-19 or quarantined because they have been exposed at work.
  2. Long-term health care workers are quarantined from each other in their own homes, not sharing bedrooms, or perhaps sharing them despite the risks because there is no other option. They don’t eat at the same table and they can’t easily hug or kiss their partners and children.
  3. Long-term health care workers and their families are basically quarantined all the time, regardless of the state mandated restriction levels: they and their families don’t go out so that they don’t risk an exposure that might be passed on to their worker’s patients. There are few harbors in their lives.
  4. The PPE is uncomfortable and cumbersome, and the vigilance it takes to maintain Covid-19 protocols while providing personal care is unprecedented and exhausting.
  5. The fatigue from longer hours and the stress of work makes it actually more difficult to get good quantity and quality of sleep. Making healthy food is also extra taxing.
  6. The families of their patients cannot visit, making the patients anxious and in need of extra care. Additionally, the families of patients are not easily able to show appreciation for the staff.
  7. Some have partners or children whose medical conditions make them more susceptible to infection and poor outcomes from Covid-19, increasing the stress even more at home.
  8. Though some student loans for health care workers have been deferred for now, some are still paying their private student loans from nursing school or other programs. Federal student loans will still need to be repaid once the deferment period ends the end of this year, right after Christmas.
  9. Nationwide, many have been infected by the virus at work and months later are still too sick to work or are having to apply for disability. Some have died, leaving their families destitute, and children orphaned.
  10. All were further wounded by a President who flagrantly denied the virus’s impacts and refused a national mask mandate.

It’s just getting very long and harder and harder for them to hold on. It’s demoralizing, dehumanizing, and surreal. They sure could use some love. Everyone is exhausted from this fight, and small businesses especially have fewer resources now to send support to medical professionals than they did in the beginning. None of us can do it all but each of us can do something.

We remember the living and fallen Veterans earlier this month.  In this final push before a vaccine, and as we go through these strange holiday times this year, let us also remember the living heroes among us who are sacrificing for us every day. They are all veterans of the Covid-19 war now. Let them not be forgotten casualties bearing their hardships in a vacuum. Find a way this week to show your appreciation.

Some ideas for how to do this:

  1. Send a hand-written letter to a medical professional.
  2. Drop off a small (or big!) token of encouragement like a healthy snack, a sleep aid like aromatherapy or tea, incense, candles, anything that encourages them to take care of themselves so they can keep up their spirits.
  3. If you are a retired medical professional, send a note of encouragement to a current health care worker.
  4. If you are a health care professional, call up your fellow health care professional friends and see how they are doing. Exchange “war” stories. We know you all are typically the last ones to ask for help, but now is not the time for that level of sacrifice. Help each other so you can keep helping your patients.
  5. If you have a social platform of any kind (small business, non-profit, for profit, educational institution, etc.), send out this message, today, and again in a month or two.
  6. Call up your local long-term care facility and see what type of encouragement they feel would be safe for their employees and/or patients. Find a list of North Carolina state-operated nursing homes here, and see here for a list of NC nursing homes by county.
  7. Donate blood. Get more info on donating locally here and here.
  8. Go for a walk, bike ride, or hike with a medical professional. Even if they are tired, encourage a short outing to give them some perspective.
  9. Meet them at a park to just sit and catch up. Bring them a refreshment. And bring some tissue.
  10. If you have any capacity to sway the vote for H.R. 8393 – Frontline Health Care Worker Student Loan Assistance Act of 2020, or other legislation to forgive front-line worker educational loans, please exercise it.

Maybe we need a “FLMW” (front-line medical worker) Day (now and annually) or a pin with a symbol that lets workers know the bearer remembers their sacrifices. Perhaps a red cross with the virus symbol in the cross hairs? Remember, all kindnesses also benefit the giver in many ways. Keep up these acts of kindness randomly now and into the future.