In Your Own Words: Courage carries the CCHC ED in the pandemic
“Do what you know how to do. You will get to the other side.”
– Charlene Poliquin, LICSW, FH ED
By Charlene Poliquin, LICSW, works in the Falmouth Hospital Emergency Department
I am an Emergency Department social worker, working full time in the Falmouth Emergency Department. I wrote this letter to simply share my thoughts and feelings regarding what it’s like working as a social worker in an ER during this pandemic.
This is a strange new world for me as a social worker as I am used to working with people who are suicidal, homicidal, struggling with mental illness or addictions of one type or another. I am accustomed to working with individuals who are homeless, or disenfranchised. I am even quite comfortable working with potentially violent and dangerous individuals.
However, here in the ER everything feels different NOW. I feel anxious and a bit fearful. I like to fix things, solve problems and help people. I am good in crisis, but I don’t know how to fix this, the enemy is invisible and potentially lethal to some. I am afraid of the toll this will take on my healthcare colleagues who have become family, our community, and our world.
I watch my nurses and doctors act with such strength, selflessly putting in long hours and caring for so many. I draw from their strength and feel more grounded, refusing to let anxiety and fear drive my emotions and intellect.
I pray for guidance and look for little ways to make a difference to those caring for so many. I remind myself that we will get through this one patient at a time, one hour at a time and eventually brighter days will come. I know loss will be inevitable, but I also believe that our community and world will become stronger and more cohesive in a way we have not seen before.
As for me, I had a dream the other night that I needed to pick up a friend on the other side of a river. I was told I had to complete a swim test and get to the other side. I did not want to participate but realizing that I must be there for my friend, I opted to put on a life vest and walk into a darkened tunnel of water with rapids ahead of me. I said, “I can’t swim. I can only do the dog paddle!” The people administering the test replied, “Do what you know how to do. You will get to the other side.”
I believe that we are heading toward the other side but wanted to share some of my observations.
It is noteworthy that there is not a moment’s hesitation by the nurses when a suspected COVID-19 patient comes in. Personal protective equipment is put on and care begins, seamlessly. Precaution signs go up on the closed door and a yellow infection control cart stands guard outside the patient’s room. As more and more yellow carts appear, I feel my own fear begin to rise. The environment feels surreal. It’s hard for me to make sense our present-day reality. I stand watching and notice that nurses are in and out of the rooms providing care with amazing professionalism. Nurses are so incredibly courageous and strong in ways I cannot even begin to fathom. I have come to believe with all of my heart that nurses are the real heroes of the ER.
In my dream, I did finally arrive on the other side, my friend waiting. I awoke and shared this dream with a friend, trying to make sense of it. Just do what you know how to do. If we all do just that, we will all get to the other side.