In my role as a long-term care psychologist in New York City, I try to ensure that each of the residents on my caseload makes the most of the time they have left in life and that they have a “good” death when the time comes. Instead of their last years surrounded by love and support, however, COVID-19 pushed a whole swath of people off a proverbial cliff. I was devastated.
The devastation was compounded by the fear of getting sick, worries about my own family, the secrecy around the numbers of residents who fell ill, the lack of attention from leadership to the plight of LTC elders, living in a hard-hit neighborhood, and witnessing the level of support given to hospital workers while LTC was ignored.
I became aware that I had signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about the first residents who got COVID, their frightened eyes, their sudden disappearances. My mind leaped from floor to floor of the nursing home, cataloguing the losses until my mind went blank from overwhelm.
On days at home, I obsessively checked the facility census online, watching the transfers to the hospital and the in-house “expirations.” No, not him. Not her.
I withdrew from others, not wanting to tell “civilians” outside of the nursing home world about what was going on. I wanted to protect them (and the nursing home), but I also felt like they wouldn’t understand. Friends were complaining about the boredom of quarantine; I was on the front lines of a COVID war. I felt like a total downer no one would want to talk to.
All my energy was directed toward the crisis on the job. I had little left for home. My spouse took over tasks I normally handled easily.
I was irritable and indecisive. I stood in front of the flower display at Trader Joe’s wanting something to brighten my mood, but I couldn’t choose among the colorful assortment of blossoms. I left the store without flowers. I didn’t really care.
I thought of myself as having “symptoms” of PTSD, not wanting to believe that I couldn’t tough this out on my own.
The honk of a car horn on the street broke my denial.