Health care heroes: the last goodbye

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The loss of her father-in-law due to COVID-19 helped bring Dana Post closer to patients going through the same experiences. Photo by Bryan Esler

Editor’s note: This is part five of a nine-part series on health care employees working during the COVID-19 pandemic. To read more stories, click here.

Nothing is worse than watching someone suffer and not be able to do anything about it. For Metro Health social worker Dana Post, feeling helpless was her greatest challenge during the pandemic.

“Not having any control over the fact that people were suffering around me and not having the ability to make the situation better for others was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to face,” Post said. “From the social work standpoint, we typically try to help create a healing and supporting environment for those who are sick, but with the COVID-19 restrictions, we were unable to achieve what we would naturally do to create that type of environment for patients.”

Because of the restricted visiting guidelines, Post often would be forced to deny family members from visiting their loved ones. “Telling someone they can’t visit or say their final goodbye to their spouse, child or family member who is in the hospital is heart-wrenching,” Post said. “I felt helpless in that moment. What my role would typically be was limited, and it made me, as a health care worker, feel awful because I couldn’t deliver on that emotional support to patients and their families that I otherwise would normally do as a social worker.”

While the hospital got creative with the alternative options it could offer families, such as through phone calls and virtual visits, Post said those interactions are less personal and meaningful than in-person gatherings. “At the end of life, it just doesn’t have the same impact as it would if a family member could sit with and hold a patient’s hand while they’re passing away,” Post said.

But like many others, Post had to face the negative impact of COVID-19 in her personal life, as well. “My dad was hospitalized with COVID-19 early in the pandemic, and I was forced to navigate making health care decisions on his behalf without being able to be there in person,” Post said. “Although my father ultimately recovered, my father-in-law was unable to recover and passed away from COVID-19 earlier this year. Because of the restrictions, we were unable to visit him or say goodbye in person. It was an unfortunate experience I wouldn’t wish upon anybody.”

“At the end of life, it just doesn’t have the same impact as it would if a family member could sit with and hold a patient’s hand while they’re passing away.”
dana post

While navigating the coronavirus from both a professional and personal standpoint was definitely an emotional challenge, it did allow Post to understand what her patients and their families were going through. “It gave me a new perspective that I could take with me into work. Now, I wasn’t only coming into the room with a medical and professional perspective, but I also had that family perspective, which helped me provide greater empathetic support,” Post said.

In fact, Post said the pandemic has brought medical professionals and their patients closer together overall because it is something that everyone is experiencing simultaneously. “Normally, health care workers aren’t also affected at the same time as their patients,” Post said. “If you are caring for somebody after heart surgery, it’ll be less personal because the surgeon would not also be going through heart surgery. But with this pandemic, it shows us we are all human, and we are all dealing with something whether it be a loss of a job, an illness or a loss of a loved one.”

Because all our lives have been impacted by this pandemic in some way, Post said she hopes everyone in the community can not only offer grace and understanding to one another but also offer acceptance to how they are feeling when those feelings arise. “None of us have been functioning at our full 100% capacity, so it’s important we normalize the emotional impact and allow everyone to be human, express our emotions and let ourselves process the toll it has taken on our lives,” Post said.

Looking at this pandemic from a mental health perspective, Post said she believes there could be lasting effects on the community at large and especially on the medical community. “Many people could suffer from PTSD, anxiety or another mental health condition because of the impact COVID-19 has had — and because health care workers are facing the pandemic head-on every time they go into work, they could be at a higher risk,” Post said.

Despite all the challenges, grief and loss that health care professionals are surrounded by every day, this pandemic has bonded Post and her coworkers together through a unique lens. “In some ways, this pandemic has helped people in health care settings connect with each other on a different level that they didn’t have in the past,” Post said. “I’ve seen a lot of coworkers come together, be more transparent, ask for help and be honest with themselves when they are struggling — which will only help them serve their patients in a more impactful way.”

This story can be found in the May 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox each month, subscribe here

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