We asked for your stories about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected your work, life, and education. Here are responses from our readers, submitted between March 24 and April 10, 2020. They have been lightly edited for length and clarity. If you’d like to share your story with us for possible future publication, you can do so here.
Advocating for Patients and Hours
My internship site has proposed very intense restrictions for health and safety of the patients at the hospital. All staff are screened when entering the hospital, with four questions about travel and health, and a temperature check. We are short on PPE, so only those with a newly developed cough and no other symptoms get masks or gloves. There is a lack of sanitizing supplies at our hospital, but we have all been asked to sanitize our work areas daily.
Patients have been restricted from having visitors, family or interviews for outside services and resources. They have also been restricted from the treatment mall, where they used to go to various groups throughout the day. Now they are all on lockdown in their units, with an hour or two outside each day.
There are a limited number of people allowed in shift briefings, treatment teams, and other meetings. Psychology is not considered essential staff for treatment teams, so I have been working with my supervisors to encourage psychology to be considered essential.
Due to limited patient interactions, my direct hours have taken a hit. That is a concern I’m currently addressing with my DCT and supervisors so I can complete my degree, even if graduation is put on hold. Luckily, as an intern I can stay at the hospital since I’m a paid state employee. However, medical students and psychology practicum students have been banned from the hospital grounds.
Productivity Expectations That No Longer Fit
Normally, I’m housed out of a school via a school-linked contract. We have transitioned to telehealth offerings, and I am being asked by my employer to maintain the same level of productivity as before, which feels impossible.
That stress, on top of everything else, makes it hard to be as effective as I want to be. However, I marvel at the role telehealth can play, and now it allows me to continue providing care and service even during these challenging times. Here’s to avoiding cutbacks!
Finding Flexibility and Purpose Amid High Standards
I have been providing telehealth therapy by working for a company for the past year here in Orange County, CA. With technology growing every day, I decided to do telehealth therapy because deep inside I had a feeling that the world of mental health would be transitioning to primarily online. Therefore, I thought I should expand my telehealth skills.
The transition of working remotely did not affect my practice. However, I am also a college professor and a college counselor teaching three courses this semester onsite. I had to all of a sudden transition to one hundred percent online in a brief period of time. On top of that, I had to transition counseling students to online meetings, as well.
The amount of energy and time it takes to move course material online and to not have the element of interaction with my students added stress and uncertainty to my life and work practice, which did not go well with my type A personality. I paused and asked myself if I wanted to continue to be stressed and overwhelmed with the high expectations I had set for myself, or whether I wanted to be flexible during this crisis.
My brother was trying to help me reduce my anxiety, and he shared this quote from Charles Darwin, which helped me to change my mindset: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
to focus on the silver lining element of COVID-19 epidemic instead. This is a
time to pause and reflect on the meaning of humanity and that we all are equal
regardless of who we are, what title we have, what language we speak, what
political party we associate ourselves with, what degree we hold, what we do
for work, and what religion we practice.
I have family members and friends in Iran, Italy, France, Canada, Australia, and many other countries around the world. For the first time regardless of our location, values, or lifestyle, we all had the same concern: Are we going to survive?
In my practice, I try to assist my clients to feel less anxious using CBT techniques and encourage them to focus on gratitude, their calling, and the shortness of life. Being quarantined can be translated to having more time to reflect on what kind of a life you want to have, rather than chasing what kind of life you think you should have, or that is expected of you.
This is a time to pause more, reflect more, think more, write more, read more, love more, help more, pray more, and spend more time on finding your calling and your purpose in life. This is the time to count your blessings and spend more time with your loved ones. I believe this is time to focus more on us, and less on me.
Ladi Boustani, PsyD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Logistical Challenges in Continuing Care
I am currently a postdoctoral fellow and my outpatient clinical care has almost fully stopped. Our institution has asked us to cancel all non-urgent outpatient psychological appointments as they are in the process of transitioning to telehealth.
The process of getting a video-conferencing telemedicine platform up and running has been much more complicated than I anticipated. There are legal, privacy, billing, and other business-related issues that need to be thoroughly considered and worked through, in addition to considerations related to technology support and access on provider and patient ends.
There are shifts related to scheduling and checking patients in and out, all of which our institution is still working through. In the meantime, I plan to start scheduling telephone sessions with patients, but this is not very easy with pediatric patients who I usually engage with in interactive, visual ways.
I hope video conferencing will be available soon, as I think it will be much easier to engage once that visual element is added back into care.
Work Restrictions, a Death in the Family, and Some Important Good News
I work for the State of Minnesota in a forensic mental health hospital. As the pandemic came for our state, my patients and coworkers had to contend with life adjustments in different ways. In February, the staff made daily decisions about how to go about our typical lives while the patients we served were staring down the barrel of increased restrictions to what little freedoms they already had. None of us knew how it would unfold.
By early March, staff members were experiencing restrictions in their own lives. Concerts and trips to Europe were cancelled. No funerals or weddings were moving forward. The institution I work for progressively restricted the patients’ ability to leave the campus and stopped all visitors entering for the foreseeable future.
By late March, staff were driving to and from work, and not much else. Toilet paper, bread, and tater tots were hard to find. Our patients were also running out of things they were used to purchasing for themselves, like preferred shampoo, lotion, and snacks. They worried about interacting with staff, understanding that if they got sick, they were getting it from us.
Our staff were able to set up virtual visits for patients, and we restructured the way we provided all kinds of programming to adhere to social distancing guidelines. I was working on-site every day and the psychology department was preparing for the eventual launch of working remotely, along with engaging patients in telehealth services. This is not something we have done before. It was a steep learning curve for many in the department.
The effect of the pandemic on my personal life has been equally intense. My partner works as a federal law enforcement officer. Our work lives have many similarities. We go to work every day knowing things will be different than the day before, knowing our freedoms and those of the people who rely on us will be restricted even further. We carry the guilt of being essential personnel, since it means we can still leave our homes and carry on with some normalcy to our schedules. Our loved ones are attempting to help their children with distance learning and have little to no personal space with everyone constantly home.
Throughout all this, my uncle had been in a nursing home, recovering from a fall. Prior to his release, he was told he could not leave because of community restrictions in his state related to COVID-19. Within weeks our family learned through news media (not the nursing home itself) that there were two patient deaths in the facility due to COVID-19.
Ten others had the virus, and more than 20 staff members were being monitored for symptoms. My uncle was suspected to be one of the healthy ones until he was transferred to a nearby hospital, admitted, and deemed to have little chance of making it. It had been more than a month since my uncle had seen anyone in the family. He died alone. I was heartbroken. I still am.
Having COVID-19 touch my family was painful. Knowing it was only a matter of time before it would prevent me from treating my patients, I anxiously reached out anywhere I could to help others. I would deliver groceries to people in my community at high risk. I would call friends and loved ones I hadn’t talked to in ages to let them know they were still very much in my heart and on my mind. I could feel the pandemic closing in all around me and I didn’t want to leave this world (or have anyone I care about leave this world) without knowing how much they meant to me.
Then, just when I thought good news was no longer a given, I got an email. A sliver of light in the seemingly never-ending dark. The subject line read, “Licensure Granted as a Psychologist in the State of Minnesota.”