Navigating through the pandemic: Reflections from the last six months

By Lauren McCluskey, LMC Case Management MD and Specialist Case Manager, October 2020

You cannot put the television on without hearing about the latest restrictions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.  You cannot listen to the radio without hearing the latest R-rate, and you certainly cannot go on social media without seeing a multitude of posts with people’s views on COVID-19, the latest treatments, when there will be a vaccine or what the “evidence” says. The coming winter months are likely to be tough for us all and with the increased pressure on all health and social care provision, both in the public and private sectors, reduced social contact, fear for health, jobs etc, this is likely to be an even tougher time for the individuals we are supporting through the rehabilitation process.  I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the valuable lessons I have learnt as a case manager over the last few months and how these lessons could be used within our daily practice as case managers.

Provide certainty

As human beings, we find comfort in routine and feel confident when we know what is happening in our lives and have a sense of control.  Embracing uncertainty and the ever-changing landscape associated with COVID-19 pandemic is not an easy task for us.  This is even more challenging for individuals who have experienced life-changing catastrophic injuries and are already fearful regarding their future and how their life will look.

As always- if we say we are going to do something, do it!  Also, ensuring that each person we work with knows how services may be affected and what to expect helps.  Be mindful that everything in their life as changed since their accident and it has now changed again with the pandemic- losing even more control.  Finding ways to support individuals to take back control of their lives can be so effective in times of uncertainty- helping the people you are working with to set goals and providing support so they achieve them gives a sense of control, focus and purpose.

Communication, communication, communication!

We all know that effective communication is a key skill of case management and never more so has it been as important. Most of the people we are helping feel worried, scared or helpless about the current situation.  Be there to let them share their worries with you and encourage them to share their worries with family and friends.  I have found that at present over-communication is not possible- keep everyone up to date, informed and just generally be there. This also helps you to closely monitor an individual’s well-being, especially if they had been suffering psychologically.

Everyone feels differently

Not everyone has the same opinions about COVID-19- respect and acknowledge them but avoid getting in conversations about them.  As a professional, share simple facts about what is going on and give clear information about how to reduce risk, for example when attending a hospital / treatment appointment.  Or provide a simple explanation as to why a certain treatment is needing to be delivered remotely or why something is delayed. I have found that always maintaining this professional approach to the topic helps to avoid negative conversations, people adapt better to what is normal at present and continue to move forward towards their rehabilitation goals and a brighter future, even if the treatment provision looks different right now.

Self-help strategies

With 4 in 5 adults being worried about the effect that COVID-19 is having on their life right now, I have found a number of self-help strategies to support with emotional well-being, and when appropriate share these with the people I am working with.  These are just a few things I have personally found helpful- there are plenty of medical resources out there to look at for other useful suggestions:

  1. Limit the amount of information per day

Whilst it is important to keep abreast of the latest news and policy around COVID-19 pandemic, limit this to one update per day.  You could choose to watch the news headlines once per day or check the official government website. 

  • Ensure the source of information is reliable

Get the facts; not rumours and misinformation.  Headlines sell newspapers- this does not always necessarily mean the information presented is correct, or if it is correct, sensationalised.  In any given day you can find contradictory information regarding the same topic. Ensure that the update you receive is from an official source.  Facebook is not an official source….

  • Avoid scrolling through social media

An unprecedented, global pandemic will naturally inspire conspiracy theories and people will have their opinions on the medical evidence, treatment or political handling of the situation.  

Sitting for long periods on Facebook or other social media outlets is not only a waste of valuable time but you are not fed accurate information, it can also heighten anxiety and fear.  Many social media platforms have been designed in a way to keep as engaged on them for as long as possible- scrolling can also be addictive and difficult to stop. 

  • Look after yourself and get a good sleep

When we feel stressed it is easy to slip into bad habits, however this just makes you feel worse.  Eat a balanced diet, exercise, drink water and reduce alcohol consumption, being a few, we are all familiar with.  There is also so much evidence out there showing how good-quality sleep makes a big difference to how you feel, both mentally and physically.  I put this to the test at the beginning of the national lockdown- adopting a routine at night, going to bed and waking up at the same time- I am now shouting from the roof-tops about how much better I feel and wish I had listened to the experts earlier.  No more burning the candle at both ends for me!

  • Try something new

I am desperate to get back out socialising and more than anything, I also miss a good hug!

However, I know these things will have to wait for a while yet.  Taking up a new hobby or focussing on something that you enjoy at home has never been more important. 

Most people that we are working with are generally focussed on their physical rehabilitation- physiotherapy, exercise programmes, gym and such like.  Meaningful occupation (the OT in me!) is so valuable and forms part of rehabilitation- with individuals spending more time indoors and with less social interactions than normal, this is something I have continually encouraged and will especially do so as the winter nights set in.  I have had one person decide to learn the guitar because they always wanted to, one who is learning Spanish for a holiday they are looking forward to next year and one of the individuals I am working with has signed up to an open university MSc.  Find out what motivates the individual you are working with- I sometimes ask them directly- you may be surprised with the response you get. Stay safe everyone, follow the guidelines, keep positive and remember that things may be hard for us, however they are extra hard for the individuals we are working with- they deserve our extra support, compassion and kindness at all times.