My plan for tackling COVID- the fight to focus on the good.
I like this saying.
I like it a lot.
Growing up I was definitely NOT a glass half full type of person.
It’s taken a lot of work to get to the point where I don’t find myself instinctively focusing on the negatives of any given situation.
So, it comes as no surprise to me that the last few weeks have been challenging in terms of trying to keep a positive outlook for myself and my family as well as those around me.
What I’ve learned so far.
I have been a doctor for quite a long time now. Nineteen years in fact.
In that time, like everyone in my profession, there have been lots of situations that have challenged my ability to keep my chin up and get up the next day and go back to work.
There are some things you never forget.
I remember my patients who have died on the wards and in their own homes.
I remember people I have stopped to help but sadly been unable to save.
One of my most difficult memories is working to save a huge group of patients who arrived critically unwell at the hospital after their nursing home had caught fire and the many worried relatives who struggled to find their loved one.
Many of my colleagues will share with me the memories of working through the SARS and Swine Flu pandemics.
I can still remember how scared I was the first time I was faced with a patient with suspected SARS.
I was in a tiny room, in full protective gear waiting for advice on what to do next. It was hot, Very hot. I remember the heat and anxiety building together.
I can remember the smell of the room, the beeping of the monitor and can still see the face of the patient and the nurse who were in the tiny room with me.
They aren’t nice memories. But I don’t think of them often.
In fact, I hadn’t really thought about them for years until a few weeks ago.
When I saw what COVID was doing to the people of China I began to think back and prepare myself for what lies ahead. I know this will be worse than anything I have lived through so far.
Focus on the good – the positives.
It would be easy to be overwhelmed by those memories and become stuck in a state of worry and fear. Stress is palpable everywhere you go just now.
But, so far at least, I’m managing to focus on all the positive stuff going on around me.
As I said before, I rarely think about the really awful times I’ve had at work.
The same can’t be said about all the good memories I have.
The good memories were the ones I focused on at the time and are the ones that remain in the forefornt of my mind when I think back over the last 19 years.
One of the big positive for me were the friendships I made in those difficult times.
Some of my closest friends ARE my closest friends because we worked side by side through these moments.
I’m still in touch with many of the nurses who supported me through my years on the wards.
I can still smell the toast and butter someone made me when I got out of the protective suit and can still remember the sense of camaraderie that got us through SARS and SWINE flu.
I feel that sense of camaraderie now.
The vast majority of people survived.
It’s so easy to remember the people who died and the sense of loss that comes with that. I’m glad I remember. It’s what makes me human and, I think, has helped me become a better doctor.
However, it’s easy to forget the thousands who survived. These are the people I’m remembering as I write this.
So,where am I in my fight to focus on the good?
I’m focusing on teamwork.
It got me through tough times before, it can help this time too.
We are all in this together.
Despite being physically distanced there is a definite sense of working together to protect the most vulnerable.
In my practice we are working more closely as a team than ever before.
The support we have had from everyone who works in the practice has been humbling.
We have closer links with other GP practices locally and are working with local pharmacies to get medicines to those who need them.
Our local community group GRACE (find them on facebook GRACE east Dunbartonshire) have moved to an online format to help us continue to support our patients.
At home, my local community has set up COVID support groups to help get food and medicine to the elderly and those who are self isolating.
My neighbours are checking in with one another daily to make sure everyone is well and not in need of anything and we are making sure one another’s families are also safe.
Another bonus is that I’m getting to spend more time with my husband and kids and we are working as a team to get through this together.
I’m ‘sweating the small stuff’
I’m sure you have heard the phrase ‘don’t sweat the small stuff.’
When people say this they are usually trying to get someone to stop fretting about little things like whether their nails are painted, what they are cooking for dinner, not having time to cut the grass every week.
Well, sometimes when there are big overwhelming things going on in your life it can be good for you to focus on the little things in life for a change.
I love watching live comedy and I remember seeing Kevin James doing a stand up show in 2001 (the year I qualified as a Doctor) call ‘Sweat the small stuff.’
In his show he complains bitterly about all the little things in life that really annoy him. Watching it was a really good distraction from the hours I was putting in at work.
I still think moving your focus to little things now and again is a useful tactic in dealing with stress of bigger things.
So, when I’m not at work you can find me ‘sweating the small stuff’.
I’m spending time playing the same piece of music on the piano over and over till I get it just right. Normally, I’d settle for banging out a few chords and singing along but I’ve gone back to actually learning some classical pieces.
I’ve been weeding the garden. I actually can’t remember the last time I did this. I love being in the garden but it’s usually just so far down my list of priorities that I usually ignore it. I’ve even planted some wee seeds with the kids.
I’ve been cooking with the kids. I love cooking and I cook all the time. What’s changed then? Well, I’ve opened up my recipe books for the first time in years and spent ages deciding what to cook and letting the kids help out more.
I’m making sure I exercise every day. Even if its for 15 minutes, I take the time to get my body moving and clear my head.
I’ve downloaded and app and gone back to learning Spanish. I’ve got family in Tenerife I reckon if I carry on for a few weeks I can start chatting to them. My neighbour is also learning so I reckon it’ll be another good wee distraction for me in the evening when I get back from work.
Small stuff right? Yes, but really important nonetheless and, so far, it’s getting me through.
I’ve recruited my kids
Everbody’s talking about home schooling.
My kids are still at school some days as we are both working. The teachers have been amazing. Their focus has really been creating a happy supportive environment for the kids.
I’ve taken a lot from their approach and rather than worry about what they are learning I’m trying to focus on just spending time with them.
The first day I had at home I really tried to fit in things like maths and reading but I soon realised it was hard going for all of us, especially with work stuff going on in the background.
My kids are 10, 8 and 6. They know a LOT about what’s going on around the world and, like the rest of us, are scared. They are missing their friends, their extended family and are struggling to understand their feelings.
So, I’m getting them to sweat the small stuff too and helping them in their fight to focus on the good stuff too but encouraging them to draw, bake, run round the garden, dance, bang away on the piano and build things.
Small stuff right? Yes, but really important nonetheless and, so far, it’s getting me (us) through.
Focussing on staying connected
Like you, I am missing my friends.
Unlike many of you, I am lucky enough to be living with other people and I know other members of my family are not as lucky and are really struggling.
I can only imagine how that must feel as I’m feeling lonely at times despite being in a full house.
That’s because your friends fill a different role in your life.
I’m using facebook and Instagram but, if I’m honest, not as much as I have been before.
Why? Well, partly because I’m so busy with patients at work and the kids at home but also because I’m finding it a bit overwhelming.
There are lots of positive posts on there but also a lot of negative news and, for me being faced with that on a constant basis was making it difficult for me to focus on the good stuff going on.
So, I am limiting how often I go on and what I look at.
At night, I’m calling my friends for a chat rather than messaging so I can hear their lovely voices. It’s the best thing and reassures me that there is still some level of normality out there.
We at A Year Of Small Changes are supporting one another. We check in most days just to make sure everyone is ok. It’s nice. It’s comforting.
Spread Kindness and Hope
The kids have painted rainbows for the windows at home and at work with messages of hope.
The streets are lined with similar paintings done by their kids and I love looking at them when I walk past.
Others are hiding bears in their windows for people to spot when out on their daily walks.
One of my little girl’s friends has drawn a hopscotch game on the pavement outside her house so people waling past can play.
The other local facebook groups are putting out useful information about mental health supports, ways to stay active at home and other cheerful posts to keep everyone’s spirits up.
Focus on the Good – the future
I’m looking forward to things we can enjoy doing when this is all over.
We have a memory jar that I bought a few years ago. The idea is that when something good happens you write it down to save it as a good memory that you can look at on days when you are feeling down.
We have had a look through some old ones but realised that we have been too ‘busy’ to use it as often as we should have. We are now really focussing on the fun stuff and recording the new memories that we are making.
I’ve started a new jar. It’s kind of like a wishing jar.
Whenever one of us says something like ‘I wish we could go to that fish and chip shop in Troon’ or, ‘I wish I could go and see aunt Talia’s new baby’ we write it down and put it in the jar. When this is over we can go through it and create a ‘to do list’ of all the things we missed.
The kids are making a list of places they want to visit one day. They are loving googling new places and have decided to list where they want to go. It’s nice to hear them chatting about the future as something to look forward too and it’s a good way to end the day.
Focusing on the Good – Listing the positives
I’m a pretty organised person. I like lists. A lot.
My newest list is a list of nice/kind/positive things that I think will come out of this is the end.
So far it includes:
People looking out for each other more.
People doing random acts of kindness more often. (I feel I can’t name any of my patient’s or friends but you know who you are)
We have been equipped with new technology. This will allow us to do some work from home. It may also help increase the number of GP’s who are able to work in the NHS long term.
We have also been given video technology which I hope will allow us to see patients without them having to leave their work.
I have spent more time with my kids. There is no doubt this is the biggest positive and I intend to make sure we continue this.
I’m not sure where exactly we are heading but I am sure we can get through this.
Focus on the wee things that keep you happy and healthy on a day to day basis.
Try to not get completely overwhelmed by the endless discussion around Coronavirus out there.
Be kind to each other.
Help us to keep you and everyone else well by staying indoors.
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