Social Worker
Yale New Haven Health
New Haven, CT

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This is part of our series, Flattened By the Curve, which features the voices of doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, and others on the front lines against COVID-19. For information on how to submit, click here.

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This is a hard time for everyone.

When I first heard our Attending speak these words to diffuse a heated morning meeting, it seemed to have washed over everyone’s anxieties. We were able to take a breath, refocus, and get back to discussing our patients. That phrase echoed, and I repeated it several times over the course of the next few weeks. But like with any effective drug, it starts to lose its potency and you need more of it to obtain the same results, or something stronger.

I needed something stronger. Mantras and breathing were no longer cutting it.

Maybe this is why I run. When my marathon was canceled a month after COVID started ravishing our communities, I lost direction and purpose. I still ran. It felt aimless. I had a goal and a program. All I had to do was the work: easy. I ran with heart, purpose, and grit. I could taste that Boston Qualifying time. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed the race was canceled, but I wasn’t destroyed. There will always be more races.

Now, I run for an entirely different purpose: keeping my sanity. I went back to trying to reframe purpose, reminding myself this is a privilege. There will be a day when I cannot run, but today is not that day. I love being outside no matter the weather. Living in New Haven during the spring bloom is a perfect time to be outdoors and an opportunity to appreciate the city where I live. I also love running early in the morning. My family is still asleep like the majority of the world. I lace up my shoes and go. I listen to the cacophony of the birds. It’s just us out here making all this racket watching the sun wake up. It helps me set the tone for the day.

I am a clinical social worker on an adult inpatient psychiatric ward. I love my work. I am curious about people’s stories. I can’t imagine working anywhere else. Everything else seems so boring in comparison.

When COVID hit, all of our lives changed and so did how we care for our patients. The rules were changing by the second. No one could keep up with all the emails and meetings. We were told don’t wear a mask. No, wear a mask. Don’t let patients wear masks. Make it mandatory for patients to wear them. Stay home if you’ve been exposed. Actually, if you’ve been exposed, come to work and monitor your symptoms. You can’t work from home. Yes, work from home. It was a relentless game of tug-o-war.

I adjusted to this new routine, and it felt manageable. I was still running, still sane.

Then a psychiatric COVID unit was created directly next to my ward. People’s fears and anxieties heightened. It was as though we were harboring zombies next door. Don’t get too close, but do peek in.

I interviewed a patient face to face who tested positive two days later. This was after she and her husband had been positive weeks prior and multiple negative tests following. Suddenly there was a gross mistrust in the reliability of the test.

We were told to assume everyone we interview has been infected or is infected. Accept that and take precautions. Your risk is low if you wash your hands and don’t touch your face. Take your temperature twice a day. I learned my temperature runs on the low side. It’s a good thing we weren’t being asked to take our blood pressure daily.

I treated a woman who reminded me of my mom. Selfless. Hardworking. Teacher. Devoted wife and mother. I watched her life crumble as the fear of COVID overpowered her mind. I watched her distraught husband unravel before her, feeling helpless, desperately searching for a way to help his fragile wife.

I watched a physician lose herself to treating COVID positive patients as her older, nervous parents cared for her two young children. I watched her husband, also a physician, completely fall apart over his inability to cure his wife.

I witnessed an older woman become directionless and purposeless when she had to stop going to work and was told to work from home. She was expected to instantly learn technologies that were of a foreign language to her. She also had to take in her elderly mother out of her NYC community where she worried for her safety.

Then I had to tell all these patients’ families they couldn’t visit. They couldn’t bring their loved ones food, comfort measures. They couldn’t independently use their smartphones to see their faces. It was another gut punch.

I learned boundaries are much harder to create and follow amid a pandemic.

Your colleagues become your closest friends and allies. They are the only people you still have social contact with. They understand what you’re going through. Somehow texting, Zooming, and calling them all hours became another tactic to maintain sanity. And, to make sure they were holding on, too.

I ran.

But all of this takes a toll on a person. When you’re spending half your day on Zoom, 95% of the time you’re staring at your own face. The self-deprecating comments are as though you’re trying to find a bandage after you’ve slit your throat, but it’s already too late. There’s no stopping the blood from gushing out. I look so tired. I need to cover these grays. Gosh, I am getting old. I have to find a better anti-aging cream. Stop looking at your hideous face. It’s one ruthless comment after another.

I wish I could have stopped thinking, but I only stopped sleeping.

I was in the hospital working. I was home working.

I took an important work call when I was in the middle of changing my son’s poopie diaper. I covered my ears to his cries when he was throwing a tantrum for my dad while I was in the middle of presenting a case conference in another room.

I watched my husband unnecessarily go to work every day while he took orders from rich white people who needed upgraded patios. I started to become resentful.

I listened to constant toxicity: Why do you need a new mask every day, you’re just a social worker? You know, COVID isn’t the worst thing you can get.

Then came the surge of advice. You should stop running. You should wear scrubs to work. You should find another daycare. You should tell your husband to quit his job.

I ran.

I started to feel envious for the people who were living alone without anyone but themselves to take care of. How I yearn for those weekly grocery trips so I could be left alone. How was going to the store any riskier than entering a hospital every day?

Other than my immediate family and a handful of co-workers, I didn’t see anyone. I am grateful to have both my grandmothers alive and well. During a phone call with one of my grandmothers, she said, “I haven’t seen your baby in two months.” That gutted me. I held back tears and validated her sadness. How many more birthdays and Mother’s Days and any other special occasions are my 80 and 90 something grandmothers going to celebrate, or at least while they’re still lucid?

This is really fucking hard.

When I ran, I witnessed a spectacular showing of hawks performing at the top of East Rock Park. I watched deer frolicking through the Yale Golf Course. I chased away plump woodchucks. I stopped to watch goslings waddle through the grass. There was a greater appreciation for nature that I don’t know I would have otherwise taken the time to pause for.

When people talk about how COVID ripped away their future plans, I completely get it. We’re all struggling to cope with our new realities. This is an opportunity to stop and think about what’s really important. This is our moment to stop whining about the material things we have lost and take a deep look into our own values and purpose.

Working from home, despite its struggles, allowed me more time with my toddler, who is the love of my life. My parents get to relive that joy as they became primary caregivers while my husband and I worked. You don’t get that time back. Money can always be made, but time goes by faster when you take it for granted.

This is a hard time for everyone.