Health-care workers also need support


As a child growing up in the 1980s one of your daily chores was collecting the post from the mailbox.

In the age before the world wide web and e-mails, this mundane task was filled with anticipation and  excitement.

Would you receive a letter from grandma or was the new edition of the Readers Digest in the post? 

This magazine was a constant presence in those days, along with its regular competitions and Sweepstakes.

I always wondered if the pictures of prize-winners were real and not just an elaborate hoax.

The one section of the Digest I really looked forward to was “laughter is the best medicine”, which contained mostly medical humour and anecdotes.

In the health-care field there is always a need for a release valve to manage our stressors  and difficult  interactions.

The stress couples undergo during labour or the anticipation of labour creates many humorous and sometimes plainly weird situations.

I recall an architect father asking me what he should do once his wife’s “constructions” started at home.

A patient once presented to the labour ward announcing herself as arriving  for her “seduction” (meaning induction).

In both these cases it could be said that the construction and seduction had likely happened nine months before.

 Along with the funny side of maternity there is also the strange requests we encounter.

A midwife I worked with recalled a request from a labouring mom while she was working in the Caribbean.

When the patient was fully dilated she wanted to be taken to the beach and deliver in the ocean.

A patient of mine once called the labour ward  and asked the sister on duty to the change her child’s date of birth.

The child was born on December 27 and apparently it would have been more convenient to have its birthday on January 1. It too was denied.

 Unfortunately the most memorable parts of health-care workers’ days are  the sad and depressing things we come across.

The emergency services driving through a gangland, dodging bullets to get to a dying child caught in the crossfire.

A nurse caring for an Alzheimer’s patient who verbally and racially abuses her on a daily basis . .

 The Covid-19 pandemic has seen mass research being published on the mental health issues affecting health-care workers.

There has been a significant rise in various conditions such as anxiety, depression and burnout.

Health-care workers have on average higher suicide or attempted suicide rates compared to most other professions.

The contributing factors involved are multiple and have complex interactions.

 What is more important is acknowledging the problem, learning how we deal with these factors and adopting  coping mechanisms.

If we don't, it will affect our family life and relationships, and ultimately our physical and mental wellbeing.

What I found difficult dealing with was guilt.

How can one experience these feelings when it is actually the patient that is suffering and you are just the observer?

The fact is actually that we are more than just observers and also are exposed to suffering on a daily basis.

While away on holiday this week I spent some time in the lovely Boland town of Worcester.

This town is well known for being an educational hub for the visually impaired.

As I jogged past the School for the Blind I saw a blind man walking with his Labrador guide dog.

The sidewalk was full of obstacles including potholes, stones and some building material.

But even with cars rushing by there was absolute trust between man and guide.

Carers also need support and guidance in managing our daily traumas and pain.

We cannot always trust our subjective judgment and must never keep it to ourselves.

There is professional help readily available.

Contact a psychologist before it is too late.

Dr T is a registered medical practitioner in Port Elizabeth.

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