Remember the Caregivers: Be in the Arena

Added on Mar 23, 2020

By Jessica Dudley, MD, Chief Clinical Officer

Jessica_Dudley_SBThis past week, I have watched as the U.S. health care system and all its remarkable people have worked tirelessly to address and solve the mountain of challenges our nation is currently facing with COVID-19. Like many people, I have clicked from news sites to chat rooms to text groups to stay informed and sort through all the information regarding the right things to do for patients, families, organizations, and communities. I have learned a lot about efforts to triage patients, the availability of tests to make diagnoses, potential treatments, and new terms like “social distancing” and “social isolation.” I have also become more aware of the fear caregivers are experiencing for themselves, their families, and their patients.

One item in particular stuck with me. It was a podcast interview with Partners in Health co-founder Paul Farmer in which he discussed America’s response to COVID-19 and compared it to public health challenges he has seen over the years. I was struck by his final statement. “One last thing: Always remember the caregivers. The caregivers need protecting too, and sometimes the caregivers are going to be family members. This is another caregivers’ disease, like Ebola. The people most at risk of being exposed are those providing care.”

This statement reminded me of an excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic” speech of 1910. “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause.”

With these words in mind, there are three things we can all do right now.

Remember the caregivers. They put themselves at risk every day and will be most affected by this disease. They will be working extraordinarily long hours, often with insufficient resources, such as testing, to meet patients’ needs. This is physically and emotionally stressful. And while they do not do this work for the thanks, thank them anyway. Recognize them. Appreciate them. Support them.

Shift from being the critic to being in the arena. In this case, “being in the arena” means doing everything you can to support the physical and emotional safety of patients and providers. For nonessential staff, this may mean staying home and following social distancing recommendations, working remotely to support the infrastructure, and creating a virtual social network to coordinate for care providers and their families support such as child care, meal deliveries, and access to health and wellness resources.

Be kind. This is the simplest but probably most powerful thing we can do. Listen when others need to talk, inquire about their well-being, offer to help where you can. We are all in this together. Making sure caregivers know they are not alone can help ease some of their burden.

With deepest gratitude and pride, I want to say “thank you” to caregivers and everyone in the arena who keeps showing up and stepping up to do the best they can individually and together.

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