The Unspoken Pandemic-The emotional pain from severe burnout that frontline healthcare experienced during COVID-19 pandemic

The Unspoken Pandemic-The emotional pain from severe burnout that frontline healthcare experienced during COVID-19 pandemic

by Dr Olivia Ong

It can be said that the pandemic has impacted many of us around the world, especially the frontline healthcare workers, myself included and it’s time we address these issues and bring the conversation into the open.

Politicians talk about opening the borders for travel and revitalisation post COVID-19. What they fail to talk about is the emotional pain that the frontline healthcare workers went through during the pandemic and their lasting effect on the healthcare industry and economy as a whole.

It’s hard to imagine what frontline healthcare workers had to go through during the worst of the pandemic. Caring for colleagues who were ill, offer comfort to dying patients who were isolated from their loved ones, and inform and console patients’ family members remotely. 

Some healthcare workers were burdened with emotionally and ethically fraught decisions about resource rationing and withholding resuscitation or ICU admission. They shared the pain of patients without COVID-19 who had their surgery or other essential treatments cancelled or postponed. 

The fear of transmitting COVID-19 led many health professionals to isolate themselves from their families for months. Working remotely and being shunned by community members further contributed to loneliness. Words cannot describe the extent of their emotional pain.

The stress on doctors and nurses pre-COVID 19 was already apparent. They are known to be at risk for anxiety, depression, burnout, insomnia, moral distress, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Under usual working conditions, severe burnout syndrome affects as many as 33% of critical care nurses and up to 45% of critical care physicians. 

COVID-19 has certainly worsened the dilemma of severe burnout in the frontline healthcare workers and unfortunately many are still fighting the war of the pandemic at the time this chapter was written. Further strained poorly resourced health systems certainly added to the dilemma of severe burnout in these healthcare workers.

Severe burnout can certainly cause physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental pain in these healthcare workers. As a consequence, some healthcare workers end up self-medicating with alcohol and drugs, which is detrimental to their health in the long term. Their relationships are impaired, marriages break down and in the worst cases, suicides arise. 

This has to be addressed as these stoic workers naturally don’t complain or seek assistance for these burnout problems. They suffer in silence. 

Suffering something similar in my career I know the detrimental impact of not having a voice or being heard in the medical community. Medical professionals don’t want to appear weak, so they continue until something breaks.

I want to help those that feel this pain before it becomes too much. So in future blogs, I will reveal my own personal journey from burnout to living a balanced life while practising medicine and the advice that helped me. I hope it will help you too.

You are not alone. 

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