On being a palliative care clinician during the Delta surge

A palliative care leader, who had a breakthrough infection, shares how he and his team are coping during this emotionally draining time.

When my spouse and I were diagnosed with the Delta variant of COVID back in June, it was extremely frustrating. We had done everything possible to stay safe, including getting the vaccine when it was available to us. We masked. We washed. We distanced. Still, we got sick.

While I do not believe I got infected while working in the hospital—my spouse became ill first, so it was likely community spread here in Alabama—I had all of the symptoms, although I did not test positive. As a precaution, I quarantined for 10 days. This all happened five months after my second shot. It was pretty scary, because we both have underlying conditions. We were fortunate we did not need to be hospitalized. That said, COVID put us out of commission for nearly two weeks, and added an extra level of disappointment and sadness into our lives.

Taking It a Day at a Time

Almost a year and a half into the pandemic, we are all stretched thin. It is not like the “early days”, when people across the world were clapping, and banging pots and pans, to celebrate health care workers as “heroes”. Now, part of what helps us get through this difficult time are the victories that happen on an individual basis with patients and families, including when someone who can receive the vaccination decides to do so.

I tell our staff to make sure they take time for themselves. After recovering from COVID, I decided to take a vacation—the first time I had been on a plane in almost two years. While I did feel some guilt about going away, the rational part of me said I had to take some time away, to be able to show up mentally and physically at work.

While some of us were tired and a little frayed around the edges after the first wave, we did get back a tiny bit of breath, a little normalcy during a lull in the spring. Now, this surge is taking us back again. I am worried that this wave, and potential future waves, are going to cause more people to move toward true burnout.

Of course, I am giving positive feedback when good things happen, and one of the biggest messages is “just have grace in yourself”, and allow team members to feel comfortable saying when they are tired, frustrated, or need to step away.

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Credit: capc.org