Familiar Rhythms During Unknown Circumstances

by: Kara Landrum at Cook Children, AYA Life Specialist

I am asked, “What is it like to work at a hospital during COVID-19?” That question gives me pause and elicits many reflections.  Going to a hospital is what I have done for many years, I know the work that we do daily has a purpose and we do it intentionally.  I know things can shift and change at a moment’s notice; it is unpredictable and I am trained to be ready and flexible. My perspective has shifted with the changes that surround COVID-19.  The halls aren’t as busy, only one person accompanies patients at bedside, you and your teammates are on rotating schedules and yet the hard news you have to deliver to a patient and family does not go away.  How you work as a team and how you coordinate patient care looks and feels different.  What I have learned is to trust one another and value grace.  I trust also that we are growing in strength daily, pushed in our endurance.

Many people are experiencing a variety of rhythm changes.  I have experienced shifts but there are many pieces to my day-to-day that are “our normal” in the oncology world.  To the outside world it is their “new normal.”  This “new normal” is not completely foreign to us in oncology, which is strange to say during a pandemic.  What was once routine teaching for the newly diagnosed patient has become “trending” practices.  Popular pandemic tag lines like: #stayhome, #socialdistancing, #6ftapart, #washyourhands, #maskselfie, #isolation, #WFH, #onlineschool, #airhug, #donttouchyourface or let’s be honest… #donttouchanything are all familiar to my patients.  Welcome to their corner of the world.

To the outside world it is their “new normal.”  This “new normal” is not completely foreign to us in oncology, which is strange to say during a pandemic.

Walking through COVID, has had me reflect on what I am teaching my patients to do before COVID, it is NOW what I am needing to do in my own life.  I have had many patients tell me, “I feel like my friends understand a little bit more of what I have been doing.  Not that they didn’t understand before but they seem to get it.”  COVID offers insight into the ways our patients have to live their day-to-day once they start their treatment journey.  They already feel what you have just now been experiencing.  They get tired of only being able to binge on shows or gaming.  They are tired of only being at home.  They miss being at school with their friends.  They miss in-person social interactions.  They miss being around their co-workers.

There are things that COVID hasn’t stopped: on-treatment patients still need to come for their chemo, patients are still hearing hard news, and families are still having to decide _______________ (fill in the blank) and being with their loved one.  Of course, there are moments that are odd.  How do I support a patient when their support system has to rotate to be at bedside?  How do we foster connection with friends or family, virtually, when they used to always be at bedside?  And when a patient has really low counts I now call into their room to check on them instead of sitting on their couch to talk with them because our goal hasn’t changed, we always value keeping people safe as we care for them. While some things have not been changed by COVID, the reality I see daily has been heightened during this time.  I see my patients walking through challenges with resilience.  They often share with me how they once thought they couldn’t do hard things but they look back and say, “I DID THAT!”  They speak with a level of appreciation for life and see a deeper meaning because of their journey.  They cultivate new interests and take on learning from their creative side.  There is an awareness that the hard, the uncomfortable, the unknown of what other people are walking through in the midst of treatment, is now more familiar to those who do not live with cancer.   I have seen the hard, the uncomfortable, and the unknown before COVID; now I see how we join together to take small steps and not look to far ahead.  What have you learned about yourself through the process of quarantine and what will you do with this new learning?