This week’s blog is written by Anna Carey
I’ve been living with Long Covid for 2 years now and I also reacted to the covid vaccine in early 2021. As a result I have had more than a year off work in separate periods. I qualified as a nurse 22 years ago and having only had time off for maternity leave and the occasional sick day, this is hard to take and the feeling of guilt is there.
However, the notion of guilt was challenged recently in the long covid support group I attended as it was a feeling that most people in the group had experienced or were experiencing. The psychologist said that guilt is usually as a result of having done something wrong and none of us have done anything wrong by getting Long Covid. We are not being naughty by not going to work. We shouldn’t feel guilty for resting and trying to get better. Do nurses feel guilt as we tend to be duty bound and want to serve others so when we can’t it’s hard? Or is the emotion getting confused with other emotions such as sadness, regret, loss and grief?
A few months ago to try and help with some of the emotions I was feeling I started to write about my experience. I did this by writing letters to people who had been part of my journey; family members, healthcare staff, friends and my work colleagues. I have not done anything with these letters yet but the approach really helped me process how I was feeling. So here is an extended version of my letter to my work colleagues.
Dear Work Colleagues,
You were amongst the first to witness that something was not quite right. In the summer of 2020 my ears were causing issues; pain, itchiness, slight hearing loss. As nurses you were concerned but also wanted to have a good look to see what you could find!! Due to Covid it was difficult to get a GP appointment and even more difficult to ask for your ears to be syringed or suctioned. So off to Boots I went for a private appointment. The first financial cost of many to come. After a bit of suctioning they felt better but this was the first sign that something was not quite right. I had no idea it was the first symptom of many.
A few months later I was complaining of headaches, lethargy, tiredness, muscle aches, especially around my period. I remember saying to several of you that I felt awful but it was just my period. Why was I feeling so bad? Surely I hadn’t started the menopause at 42. But no it was Long Covid.
Following my 2nd vaccine I had 6 months off work. When I returned I could only work two thirds of my contracted hours and this had to be in the form of shorter shifts. You accepted this new way of working for me. You all told me that it was better having me there than not but I still felt guilty. When I left and had to hand over the things I hadn’t managed to do or things that needed chasing up later in the working day. This was not the nurse I was used to being.
I started working with you in January 2020, just 10 weeks before I got covid. I moved jobs to have a break from management and get back to patient care for a few years. But I fear you haven’t seen the real ‘me’. The nurse I can be when well. I feel I’m no longer doing my job to the best of my ability and you are not seeing the best of me. I go ‘off sick’ again 6 months later after catching covid again and then to receive treatment abroad. Again you were so supportive but I still felt guilty.
I am still off sick now after a failed return to work a few months ago. It is so hard being off sick. This is such an invisible illness with no treatment trajectory so I worry that others think I am just making it all up but believe me being sick at home is not easy. It’s hard work getting better, trying to get the right support when little is known about the condition. I need to be out and about working, contributing and feeling that sense of achievement. But at the moment this is not possible, I am only able to do a fraction of what I used to be able to do, for me I have to come to terms with this loss. As I write this I know that I need to change the feeling of guilt to perhaps a feeling of sadness, loss and a sense of regret that I can’t be with you all, helping and contributing.
I am not sure when or how I will return to work and in what capacity but I thank you for your support and patience.
So perhaps as nurses our sense of duty compels the feeling of guilt. As nurses who care for others, we must care for ourselves and our emotions. I am not afraid to say I have sought help for this in the hope that my physical health will benefit from good mental health and a positive mindset. We [those of us with Long Covid] have not done anything wrong, we have not been naughty so let’s try and get rid of that guilt!