An essay I read recently had a line that so struck me—“even ducks can drown.” I’d never really thought about that but, sure enough, when I looked it up I found that it was true. Ducklings are particularly vulnerable but even older ducks can drown. If a duck can’t find a way out of the water they are in, they can succumb to exhaustion and drown. That’s reality.
And I could not help but apply that to the world we are all living in, especially those of us in healthcare, who are swimming in this endless COVID pool and finding no way out. Don’t get me wrong, we are in a far better place than we were 27 months ago. We know a great deal more than we did then and vaccines have changed the game and saved so many lives. For that we are all profoundly grateful.
Yet, while the world outside is moving toward normalcy, the world inside our senior services organizations is still not back to our own state of normal. Our staff are still in masks and eye protection, still being tested on a regular basis, still subject to far more stringent rules than exist in any other field. Of course we support all efforts to keep our elders safe and well but, in truth, the weight of the regulations that only our field has to bear—well, it is a heavy one.
Caring for older adults, especially in a nursing home, is challenging work. In mission-based and values driven environments, staff members are there because they truly care. These individuals come to work with their dedication, compassion, skills and knowledge. They do so because it matters. They do so because they believe our elders deserve to live their lives fully, safely and richly. They bring their best selves to work every work and they did the same even on the most difficult, and anxious, days of our fight against COVID.
All of them, and I suspect many of you, are exhausted. We have been pushing through for more than two years, all of us, waiting for a day when we could “get our lives back.” We are not there yet and COVID is not done with us yet. But we are also steadfast in our belief that we cannot let this virus drown us, we cannot let it win.
How do we address this, how do we find a way out of that pond that seems to have no shore? It seems to me that, first and foremost, we need to recognize that all of us sometimes feel like ducks who can’t find a way out of the water and accept that, showing ourselves—and others—some grace. We have to understand and value self-care, for ourselves and for all of the other people in our lives, personally and professionally. We have to be kind to ourselves, to give ourselves the time to look inside and really think about what we need, what matters to us. And in that way we will find the shore—supported, honestly and together.