Gary Tetz

“Be joyful even though you’ve considered all the facts,” wrote American poet Wendell Berry. He wasn’t talking about COVID-19, since this was 1973. But maybe it’s still the best possible advice, especially for long-term care staff. 

The news these days isn’t good, to say the least. Back in March, many of us foolishly thought the pandemic would be receding, and by now we’d be celebrating a success story of societal resolve and well-deserved reopening. But in retrospect, that seems incredibly naïve, leading to a truth that’s getting impossible to deny: This isn’t close to over. 

Maybe we’ll have a vaccine in December. That would be fantastic. But even under optimal conditions, achieving protective herd immunity will still take many, many more months. How many people will be willing to be vaccinated, and how quickly can it happen? How long will immunity last? Will it require one shot or two? All of these are factors that could greatly elongate the path back to blissful normalcy. 

So no matter how we look at it, we’re in this for a long, long time. And to me that’s what’s so tough about it: the relentless combination of the unknown future and the grueling now. Long-term care staff know that better than anyone. They’re trying to provide care like they always do, which was never easy at the best of times, while dealing with all the infection control protocols and PPE now required to keep them and their residents safe and protected. 

Masks, gowns, gloves and now face shields, on again off again, all day long. How many more layers will be necessary by the time this is over? CNAs and nurses are starting to look like astronauts, unrecognizable to those they serve. Remember Ralphie’s little brother in the movie “A Christmas Story,” getting stuffed into his snowsuit? That appears to be where we’re headed. 

In times like these, with obstacles at every step, maybe we underestimate the rejuvenating power of joy. For a rehab therapist I talked to last week, she finds it in the progress she’s still able to make with her patients, regardless of all the new challenges. 

She told me the story of a gentleman named Robert, who hadn’t stood in four years, and couldn’t even feed himself. Certainly he never dreamed he would ever walk again, but she and the rest of the therapy team had other ideas. Over the next two months, they earned his trust and got him back on his feet, transferring and even walking considerable distances. “They’ve worked miracles with me,” he said gratefully in an interview before going home. “I’ve come a long, long way.” 

The therapist will never forget the joy on his face when he stood, or the way their eyes locked in disbelief. “It just feels amazing,” she said. “It gives us more motivation to come out every day, in today’s world, and help people be what they didn’t think they could be, and even more.”

“Be joyful even when you’ve considered all the facts.” Basically, she’s echoing Berry’s words. She and every long-term care employee see nothing but the cold, hard facts all day every day, and are well-acquainted with the truth, that this is hard and will continue to be. 

But one way or another, they find joy in the difference they make, and perhaps that’s all the inspiration any of us need. 

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the recent APEX 2020 Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.