ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
An explosion of coronavirus cases, intensive care units approaching capacity, a field hospital set up for overflow patients - health care workers in the Midwest now face some of the same nightmare scenarios that their colleagues in New York saw this spring. That takes an emotional toll, one that sometimes emerges after the storm has passed. Kimberly Johnson knows this well. She is a therapist in Long Beach, N.Y., who provides free services to health care workers through a network called emotionalppe.org.
KIMBERLY JOHNSON: I think they're getting in touch now because things are getting quieter. So in the beginning, a lot of them were in that high-stress, high-response mode. And during that time, they may not be as active in kind of processing what's going on or what they've been through. And now, months later, we're starting to see kind of the quieting come in and it coming back up for them.
SHAPIRO: Tell me what you're hearing.
JOHNSON: I hear a lot - from those that reach out, a lot of retelling of the stories of sitting with people as they passed and doing the FaceTime messages with family and the really feeling grief and still processing the grief of those losses and the multiple losses at one time and kind of the problems with trying to balance what they went through there with their own family members getting sick and going into the hospital, managing - how do you respond to a loved one, you know, going onto a ventilator when you can't even be there yourself to be supportive of them? So that - and then also the concern of, what might I be bringing home?
JOHNSON: You know, how do I clean up? How do I come back into my family and not put my experiences back into their environment and still make home a safe place?
SHAPIRO: Do people tell you that they're burned out or thinking of leaving the profession?
JOHNSON: You know, I haven't heard that. Burnout is something that we will often see in people that have gone through kind of this prolonged traumatic experience. But I don't hear people talking about leaving. I don't hear about - the people that come to me are not necessarily talking about, I want out. It's, is what I'm experiencing normal? When will it get better? How can I help myself and my family? It's really people looking at, how can I continue to do the work I'm doing and doing the quality of work I'm doing kind of with this situation as it is?
SHAPIRO: How do you answer the is what I'm experiencing normal question when nothing about this pandemic is at all normal?
JOHNSON: Oh, yeah, the pandemic itself isn't normal. But the human response of these medical workers, I think, is very normal. When we looked back at how people responded to other kind of extreme events - say, like 9/11 or even Superstorm Sandy when it hit in this area - a lot of the same symptomology emerges - difficulty sleeping, problems with eating, problems with - you know, kind of ruminations about what happened, issues with frustration and anger, depression. It's a lot of similarity there. So we can speak to how what they're feeling is something we may expect to see amongst people that have dealt with these extreme stress events and then talk about different ways that they can kind of self-care through that.
SHAPIRO: Is there anything you've heard from a client that you wish the public could be aware of?
JOHNSON: That's a good question. Wear a mask. Literally, that's one of the first things that comes up often - is, why aren't more people taking this seriously? I wish people knew what I had been through and what I saw. I can't say that's a ubiquitous thought, but it is definitely something that my patients have shared. Don't take this lightly.
SHAPIRO: Kimberly Johnson, thank you for the work that you're doing and for talking with us about it.
SHAPIRO: She provides free therapy to frontline workers through emotionalppe.org.
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