Most of the nation is still cooped up in the house, working out of their living rooms and holding the majority of their meetings through Zoom. It’s been two and a half months. We’re getting restless. We’re getting anxious. And we’re getting a little cranky.
Until recently, I’d been living apart from my husband and daughter, working in California while they stayed behind at our home in Northern Nevada. It was a 2-3 hour drive, depending on traffic, so I rented a place near the hospital and came home on the weekends. As hard as it was being away from them, it definitely had its advantages.
It was quiet when I got home. The place was just as clean as I’d left it that morning. There was no discussion about what to have for dinner or what to watch on TV. No thermostat wars. No sharing of closet space. How much we talked to each other depended entirely on the length of our phone calls.
But I actually did miss my family. When my engagement with that hospital ended, it was nice to be back home. I really enjoyed things like having dinners together every night and not having to cram all the family time into the weekends.
And then came COVID.
No one is leaving the house. After 14 months of living apart, we are on top of each other. All day. Every day. We love each other, but we’re starting to get a little tired of each other. And I’m reminded of something I learned early in my career: don’t let your mood dictate your manners.
I was a new manager, trying to build a department from nothing, and working for a very demanding boss. I was having a particularly stressful day when someone I worked closely with asked me what I thought was a really obvious question and I just snapped. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it wasn’t kind and the instant I said it, I wanted to take it back. I apologized, of course, but you can’t take back the words you’ve said. Once they leave your lips, they’re not yours anymore.
When we work in healthcare, or any industry in which you have to serve people, but especially healthcare when people are at their most frightened and vulnerable, we absolutely cannot our mood dictate our manners. Whatever bad day we’re having, whatever argument we had with our spouse before we left the house, whatever personal issue is going on, we can’t bring it to work with us.
And even while we’re at work, whatever conflict is happening with another co-worker, whatever policy is driving you crazy, none of it matters when you’re with a patient or guest.
It’s difficult to keep our mood in check, especially now with the additional stress of so many very sick patients and the families who are upset they can’t be there with them. We’re short on masks, we’re worried about space and ventilators and getting sick, ourselves, or bringing this virus home to our own families. It’s easy to let our mood take over and snap at the people around us.
But we can’t.
We have to remember that they’re not the ones we’re mad at. If we take a moment to breathe, name the thing that’s actually upsetting us, and remind ourselves that this person in front of us needs our help, we stand a better chance of continuing to be kind instead of saying something we’ll regret later.
It’s a good thing to remember, even after this pandemic is behind us.