Thinking back to 2020, concerning the emergence of COVID-19 and the first hard lockdowns all over the world. Individuals from all walks of life were frightened, locking themselves in their homes for fear of being infected. Yet, frontline providers and health care workers had to carry on with their daily jobs. Were they less scared than the nonmedical layman or immune to the virus? Unfortunately, they weren’t. They were just as fearful as we were. And they still suffer while the majority return to a more normal life.
Only a small number of people are aware of the trauma and burnout they had suffered during the beginning of the pandemic – which continues to this day. We shed the truth behind the people who are keeping us alive during the pandemic.
The human frailties
Our clinical frontliners feel the same fear we have been feeling. Every worry, anxiety, and depression felt on top of delivering quality service to the world. They have families in danger of infection, with frontliners having a higher risk. However, they are the people working round the clock to keep our loved ones alive. They were exposed to highly stressful conditions before a vaccine was successfully developed.
Death seemed to encircle everyone and everywhere. When someone was hospitalized for COVID, there was no certainty of survival. Many recovered while others didn’t and suffered a terrible fate – experiencing trauma and exhaustion. There was a shortage of staff for regular shifts. More and more health care workers got infected, quarantined, or worse – departed this life. Adding to that was the snowballing number of admitted patients, which overwhelmed hospital staff.
Amount of trauma and burnout frontline and health care workers suffer
The World Health Organization (WHO) has released statistics on the conditions that frontline and health care workers experienced.
- An estimate from January 2020 to May 2021 shows that between 80,000 and 180,000 health care workers have died from COVID-19.
- 93% of health care workers are experiencing stress, and 86% of them are experiencing anxiety. 75% said that they were overwhelmed and wanted to quit.
- During the pandemic, 76% of health care workers with children were worried about infecting their children. They all worried about exposing their older and high-risk family members to COVID.
- 82% are still emotionally and physically exhausted over the long term. 70% are still struggling with sleeping and physical exhaustion.
What can we do about it?
At this point, the question is, what can you do about it? We can wench off some of the burdens that health care workers and frontline workers continue to carry throughout the pandemic.
There are numerous things that can be initiated. One is by simply saying thank you. Appreciation for risking their lives to save ours and our family’s lives. In addition, express empathy. It is indeed the most challenging time of their lives. The best way to help them is by getting vaccinated and following all the COVID protocols to end the pandemic as soon as possible.
Often, when we get caught up in our own hectic schedules, we fail to grasp the sacrifice these frontline providers and health care workers have given – the hidden truth of battling trauma, exhaustion, and burnout. The complexity of layers of protection while still having the highest risk of exposure and infection. Witnessing thousands of people dying every single day. A seemingly endless loop of fatigue. Everybody wants the pandemic to end. Let’s do our part in plugging this pandemic as soon as possible.
Naheed Ali is a physician and medical journalist.
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