By Victoria Renard, Vice President of Development at Mental Health America
As the VP of Development at Mental Health America (MHA), I introduce myself as the person lucky enough to work with incredibly talented people developing programs to help empower individuals with their mental health and finding connections in the world to others interested in that work. I shorthand that by saying I’m the VP of Connections.
Today, I want to make a connection on a very personal level and bring you the story, a very real story of my own brother-in-law. His story conveys both the physical and mental health challenges of frontline health care workers as they care for people with COVID-19.
I turned to him and my husband, both nurses, as MHA began developing our COVID-19 relief resources for these vital members of our community. Individuals who put their lives and their families lives at risk – to serve us.
What he shares, and he has given me permission to share this, expresses exactly the real world situation health care workers are in. Every single part. Every single day. Continually. With no end in sight.
In his own words:
“Yeah, the greatest challenge I believe health care workers have is not about getting infected but bringing the infection back home to their families.
“Think about my experience. I got sick and my wife and son got infected too because I brought it home. I remember, even in my sickness, waking up and watching over my son when his fever was around 103 and he was laying almost looking lifeless in bed. I kept checking on him to make sure he was still breathing.
“My wife was not also spared...only my other son had mild symptoms of low-grade fever for about 3 days. After about 13 days, we all felt kind of better and boom! I decided I was going back to work.
“I couldn't stay home [anymore] because I'm a nurse manager and I see the staffing challenges we were going through…What was actually going through my mind was, ‘what if all this is a big mistake that I will regret...what if i get infected again and take it back home? What if God healed me the first time and wouldn't spare the whole family next time because I didn't do right to go back? What if I don't survive it again? What if, what if...’
“The torture and nightmares of the death we see now is crazy. This morning, I had a 61 year old patient, [whose] wife and sister called and I took the phone to him. He was eating breakfast, a little tired but doing good. The family was sooo nice and appreciative on the phone and prayed for me and thanked me for being there and helping the patients. By 12 noon the patient’s status had changed and had to be on ventilator. He was dead before 4 p.m. I couldn't bring myself to talk to the family after he died... unfortunately, I was the one to break the news.
“It's crazy! I can't wait for this to be over. For the past week, I drink a glass of wine every night now to sleep. I actually now look forward to it. It's 5:42 p.m. I'm typing this from the bathroom because I'm about to take a shower to clean myself before saying hi to the family.
“I just got home after leaving the house around 6:30 a.m. while everyone was still sleeping. My boys sleep before 8 p.m. so I have barely two hours to stay with them...not to mention that I have 2 weeks to the end of this spring semester and I have papers, case studies, blackboard posts and all due...but I want to be present and enjoy my 2 hours with the kids.”
Every day, our health care workers and their families are dealing with extraordinary challenges. At MHA, we have COVID-19 relief resources specific to their needs available here.
Please share the availability with everyone you know and please post links on your social media accounts. We must spread the awareness of these vital tools so they may serve the frontline health care workers who continually serve us at the risk of their lives and their families lives.