We vividly remember greeting our colleagues with a big smile or warm hug, asking about updates in their lives. We remember collaborating on difficult cases in our workrooms, going to happy hours and noon conferences with these colleagues, who had become our closest friends over the years. These moments filled our “happiness buckets.” And then, in a week's time, our lives changed drastically.
Our overall workforce decreased. An eerie sense of loneliness filled the hospital. Interactions with colleagues were limited, unless about patient care. Everyone felt more comfortable in their sanitized siloes. Not to mention, you could barely recognize who was really behind that mask. We talked about losing human connection with our patients. We feared we were getting increasingly distant from our colleagues.
Humans need social interaction. What happens when we cannot effectively do this without risking our colleagues, families, and close friends? Isolation, anxiety, and fear about the unknown were sure to take a huge toll. Guidelines and management of COVID-19 changed what felt like daily. How could we keep up while maintaining our sanity?
After brainstorming solutions, our wellness committee orchestrated sessions called “COVID Debriefs.” The purpose was simple: Enjoy a favorite beverage in the comfort of your home and join a video meeting to discuss topics pertaining to COVID-19, ranging from guidelines to the impact of the pandemic on families.
Our weekly sessions started on Wednesday nights before transition of service and helped connect our 98 faculty members and the leadership team. They were a platform to normalize the emotional turmoil many felt while simultaneously sharing updates on the nuts and bolts of inpatient management. Sessions covered topics such as expediting admissions, proning, troubleshooting family expectations, facilitating advance care planning, and prescribing anticoagulation at discharge. One week was dedicated to discussing clinical trials available at our institution. We also had panelists share cases and tips on using consent forms and overcoming language and physical barriers. One session focused solely on wellness and how to create an emotional connection with patients and colleagues despite the masks and layers of protection. This allowed for thoughtful discussions about the toll of COVID-19 on our humanism.
This is an ongoing project, and we have now transitioned to monthly sessions. We continue to have around 30 active participants at each session. The sessions are recorded, and a scribe helps disseminate the information. While this virtual meeting does not replace human connection, it facilitates collegiality, enables information sharing, and rekindles comradery. The kindness and empathy that we show our colleagues helps foster our connection to our patients and their hardships.