Gary Tetz

Whether you’re a long-term care leader or staff member, whether you want to admit it or not, the pandemic has taken a massive personal toll — on your mind, on your memory, on your body, on your spiritual and social health. Maybe there’s somebody, somewhere, who claims to be surviving this ordeal entirely unscathed, but I suspect that person is lying. 

A recent article in The Atlantic headlined “Late-Stage Pandemic is Messing with Your Brain” makes the case that we’ve been dealing with this so long that we’re forgetting how to be normal. 

“I’ve started keeping a list of questions,” writes the author, “remnants of a past life that I now need a beat or two to remember, if I can remember at all: What time do parties end? How tall is my boss? What does a bar smell like? Are babies heavy? Does my dentist have a mustache? … How much does a movie popcorn cost? What do people talk about when they don’t have a global disaster to talk about all the time?” 

The article quotes an assortment of gloomy neuroscientists who believe that due to the pandemic, we’re all basically walking around with brain damage. They assert that all these “microdoses of unpredictable stress” change the brain regions that control executive function, learning and memory. The author also points out that the rate of Americans reporting symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders has nearly quadrupled, according to a study by the Census Bureau. 

“This is the fog of late pandemic,” she says, “and it is brutal.” Later, she likens the experience of the past year to being pushed through a pasta extruder, an analogy that has great resonance for me, and probably with anyone working in long-term care. 

In my own personal life, the best indication of on-going pandemic-induced brain damage is the fact that I’m currently watching all 10 seasons of “CSI: Miami.” No, it’s not a good show. It’s horrible, in fact, but I’m still obsessed. The constant deluge of gruesome murder cases has to take a toll, but through it all, the ridiculous Lieutenant Horatio Caine stands epically sideways, takes his sunglasses on and off, speaks in an implausibly calm tone and somehow keeps moving forward. 

That’s my view of long-term care leaders and staff over the past year. You’ve been, and will continue to be, the Horatio Caine’s of the world, maybe wondering privately how much more you can take but somehow still keeping a brave and positive face for your residents and colleagues. You don’t have time to dwell on trivialities like pandemic fatigue and brain damage — you have people to serve and that pesky sense of mission to fulfill. 

Like him, you’ll try to hold most of that anxiety and stress inside and simply move doggedly to the next scene, or difficult task, or challenging conversation, or sad goodbye. No, your Horatio-style endurance in the face of perpetual crisis won’t have the same dramatic effect with that N95 muffling your pithy quip and the face shield blocking your sunglasses. But your stoicism and resilience will have one big advantage — it’s real. 

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.