Beyond caring: COVID-19 and compassion fatigue
This weekend, The Dalai Lama Global Vision Summit: The Power of Compassion, provided some much-needed reminders that there is joy in cherishing the well-being of others. My fortuitous attendance at this event was perfectly timed to coincide with an increasingly urgent desire to find equanimity and perhaps solace while riding the rollercoaster of a brutal pandemic. The COVID-19 trip holds no allure. There is nothing appealing about a journey that is brimming with often unrecognised fears (of dying?), post-traumatic stress and grief from losing one’s health and mind, patients, colleagues and loved ones, information overload, excessive demands of an increasingly competitive professional environment, isolation, feelings of invisibility rather than invincibility, and perhaps a vague notion of having failed to keep it all together. Oh, the shame of imperfection! Although our usual perfectionism, conscientiousness and emotional investment may compel us to be over committed and unable to switch off,1 the additional unique demands of caring for patients in a COVID-19 pandemic have been excessive and cruel, leaving little time or capacity to restock inner resources or balance work commitments and life dreams. And this is not over. While severe COVID-19 is traumatic, the disease, even in its mildest forms, may lead to long COVID,2 obliging us to witness prolonged suffering and provide ongoing care to patients who, by virtue of being unwell, serve to remind us of our impotence and inability to ease their misery. And those intrusive thoughts lurk in the background: Despite being vaccinated against this potentially deadly disease, we know somewhere deep inside us that we are not impervious to this nasty little virus in all its shapes and forms, and that we will need to continue to be (hyper)vigilant, wear masks, sanitise, maintain our physical distance, protect our families, receive booster shots, and face break-through infections and a fourth wave. It is all too much. As many can attest, there may come a time when we are drained and exhausted, and quite simply tired of caring, about anything, or indeed, anyone.