From balconies, windows and door fronts around the world, citizens are applauding healthcare workers on the frontline of the Covid-19 response for their commitment and care. Despite these visible shows of support, all is not well – because in addition to the risks of exposure to a largely invisible enemy, these healthcare workers also face threats of various kinds in the workplace.
The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted healthcare workers physically and psychologically.
During pandemics, as the world faces a shutdown or slowdown in daily activities and individuals are encouraged to implement social distancing so as to reduce interactions between people, consequently reducing the possibility of new infections, healthcare workers usually go in the opposite direction.
However, healthcare workers have the same fears as everyone else. They are not invincible. Like the rest of the population, some are immunocompromised, have underlying conditions, are over 60 years old. They can fall, and have fallen, victim to the disease. The International Council of Nurses said recently that it believes at least 90,000 healthcare workers had been infected and many of them died of this pandemic.
Because of a shortage in protective equipment, they are sometimes forced to do their duty in makeshift coveralls – some made from trash bags and raincoats that are taped in place – improvised face shields, do-it-yourself face masks. Due to the exponential increase in the demand for healthcare, they face long work shifts, often with few resources and precarious infrastructure and working in disciplines other than their own, the need of wearing personal protective equipment that may cause physical discomfort and difficulty breathing can contribute to increasing their uneasy state. In addition, many professionals may feel unprepared to carry out the clinical intervention of patients infected with a new virus, about which little is known, and for which there are no well-established clinical protocols or treatments. Also, there is the fear of getting infected, as well as the concern about the possibility of spreading the virus to their families, friends or colleagues. This can lead them to isolate themselves from their family nuclear or extended, change their routine and narrow down their social support network.
These factors can result in different levels of psychological pressure, which may trigger feelings of loneliness and helplessness, or a series of dysphoric emotional states, such as stress, irritability, physical and mental fatigue, and despair.
Often during this global health pandemic healthcare workers have been invoked as heroes by the policymakers. In a disorienting experience like a pandemic, it’s reassuring to talk of heroes. We can picture the mythic hero charging the battlefield despite the danger, getting the job done no matter the obstacles, and paying no heed to possible or actual injury. However it is a definition of convenience. The hero image burns so bright that it eclipses any light shining on the failures of the system that could turn heroes into involuntary martyrs.
Millions of health care workers—physicians, nurses, technicians, other health care professionals, and hospital support staff, as well as first responders including emergency rescue personnel, law enforcement officers, and others who provide essential services and products—around the world have faced the challenge of providing care for patients with Covid-19, while often ill-equipped and poorly prepared, risking their own lives to save the lives of others.
We are healthcare workers! We have the same fears as everyone else. We are not invincible, but we are doing everything to save the world from this pandemic, simply respecting our mission!