Gary Tetz

In an effort to draw attention to the heroism of frontline caregivers, our company CEO has visited several of our post-acute rehab facilities and conducted brief, socially-distanced interviews outside with care staff. He hauls me along to hold the camera, and it’s been fun to watch the interactions. 

In the course of these conversations, several things have become clear. First, they don’t think they’re heroes. No surprise there, as reflexive modesty is the prevailing personality trait of virtually every facility staff member I’ve ever known. 

Second, despite the obvious dangers, continuing to show up for their residents, patients and colleagues really wasn’t a choice. It’s what they do, and they’re a bit shocked by the question. 

Third, they’re coping with the pandemic pretty well — far better than I am, and in healthier ways. 

When asked how they’re keeping their spirits up and staying energized, they invariably cite simple self-care strategies. “I’ve been doing some meditation, to get my mindset right,” said a CNA.

“I just focus on doing my best every day and going home to my family,” said a nurse. 

“Honestly, I don’t know how I’m doing it,” admitted a 17-year veteran caregiver. “I just do it.”

Humor helps, they all say, as well as having the support of a great team of colleagues. They’re also getting outside and exercising like demons. And perhaps most important of all, they actively practice staying grateful and positive.

My coping mechanisms, on the other hand, could be considered somewhat less constructive and helpful.

No aesthetic decisions portrayed here.

For starters, I’ve grown a beard, not as an aesthetic decision but simply because I lost the strength and will to shave. When the office dress code was relaxed for the pandemic, I chose casual face, not casual dress. No one is inspired by this choice, or begging for an interview to find out how I did it. I’m nobody’s bearded hero. 

I’ve also watched nine Chuck Norris movies. That’s right, nine. I suppose it’s not surprising to gravitate toward an all-powerful superhero who can kick this pandemic’s butt. As I’m sure we are all aware, the coronavirus washes its hands after it meets him, and when Mr. Norris tested positive, COVID-19 was quarantined for two weeks. But still, this habit is an obvious escape, not a healing refuge.

One of my few arguably positive coping strategies is to walk. A lot. I force myself to feel my feet touching the ground, to breathe, to smile, to look up hopefully toward the horizon, not myopically down at my shoes.

A friend of mine makes a practice of actually touching the trees as she passes. “I try to intentionally experience the spaces I move through each day with a more mindful approach,” she told me. “Touching nature reminds me to be appreciative of my existence.”

Since she’s achieved more spiritual growth in two decades than I have in however many it’s been, I’ve hijacked the practice as well. Now whenever my fingers brush through the leaves, I feel a connection to life that is deeper and bigger than myself. 

The touch of trees pulls me out of my mind, providing a respite from the tyranny of panicked thoughts and paralyzing fears. It calms and soothes. It says, “Stand strong. You don’t have to understand everything. Just be, and do.” 

That’s the beautiful thing about trees. They won’t shut up. 

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.