Over the last 2 weeks (March 28-April 11) we have heard the heart wrenching and challenging stories from frontline health care professionals working during this crisis. And I've noticed something unusual. We offer 2 ways to respond to a narrative prompt: from the difficult/challenging perspective or the uplifting/inspiring perspective. Participants not familiar with our work tend to choose to answer from the uplifting/inspiring perspective, about 70-75% of them. We believe it's safer in a new situation to be seen as being positive.
Due to the pandemic we have adapted and designed an on-line format that is new to us and to our participants. Based on the past 15 years of work I anticipated some difficult stories and word choice, but I was blown away by what I've heard so far. We are seeing the difficult/challenging language in stories outweigh uplifting/inspiring language by a ratio of 3:1!
I HAVE TO BELIEVE THIS IS REPRESENTATIVE OF THE IMBALANCE WE ARE ALL FEELING DURING THE INITIAL STAGES OF THIS COVID 19 PANDEMIC. We are hearing the language of stress, fear, anxiety, sadness, and the need for decompression from those on the front lines mixed with their acknowledgement of acts of kindness and compassion. It's a reflection of the human condition at this point in time. I'll share with you some of their words...
--The difficult, challenging and powerful words:
Difficult feelings: struggling, speechless, failing, helpless, drained, powerless, stressful, shattered, challenging, distressing, hard to process, constant worry, quarantined.
Sadness: crying for no reason, sobbing, cried myself to sleep, one tap away from weeping
Fear: the staff are scared, am i fully protected, fearful, afraid of passing COVID to family
Reality: everything hit me today, we are all exposed, too many patients, not enough staff, game changer, putting patients in the lobby outside of my office door
Death and dying: doctors and nurses are dying, worry I will die, hard to process all the death, patient not going to make it
Not able to help: normal tools in my nursing toolbox don't work, unable to assist, unable to connect, I wish I had superpowers
Feelings of isolation: not being toucher or hugged, miss my freedom, can't share celebrations with family
Can't get away from it: constant waves of COVID, hard to watch on TV
--The words and language of kindness, compassion, and hope:
How we cope: connecting with patients removes fear, we do what we can, choose the positive, establish a COVID-free zone, hope, overcoming, listening, creating connections
Recognizing human connections: Family, my empathy flows for my colleagues, humanity, grateful for co-workers, kindness, compassion, together
Recognizing purpose: giving back in time of need, here to assist, doing acts of service
Recognizing appreciation of others: encouragement written on the sidewalk with chalk, the smiles on fathers seeming baby for first time at discharge.
Over the next weeks and months we will be following the balance between difficult and challenging language vs uplifting and inspiring language in the stories of our participants. It will be interesting to see if there are trends over time as we go though this together.
Follow with us to see how our words and language continue to reflect the real human experiences we are all going through during this COVID19 pandemic...together we will get through this.
We all have the superpower to just continue to do what we can and hang in there to keep each other safe.
Dr. Lorraine Dickey
Founder & CEO, TNI