Kate SheehanLast issue our regular columnist Kate Sheehan discussed the the very real problem of fatigue, in both post-COVID patients and healthcare professionals.

It has been interesting times for us all over the last few months, affecting both our work and personal lives.

The work challenges have be enormous, accommodating redeployment, changing assessment practices, supporting clients from afar, prioritising patients, maintaining CPD and learning to communicate through PPE.

Our home lives have been significantly impacted by not being able to physically see and hug loved ones, trying to effectively communicate via virtual tools and seeking to maintain our occupational balance.

In addition, we have had to cope with colleagues and loved ones, who have contracted COVID-19, survived or in a number of cases died from the virus, including occupational therapists Vivek Sharma and Dianne Harvey, our thoughts go out to their family and friends.  We also need to keep in our thoughts those occupational therapists who are also still struggling to fight off the virus and the impact it has and will have on their health and lives going forward.

We still have a significant number of diagnosed COVID cases and although the death rate appears to be going down, we need to be mindful of a potential second wave, however this is the right time to look at fatigue. There are two areas of fatigue that we need to be aware of:

  • Post viral patients
  • Healthcare professionals

Fatigue is being mentioned a lot within the healthcare setting and the Royal College of Occupational Therapists has produced three documents regarding practical advice for people who have been in hospital and at home and another guide on practical advice for people during and after having COVID-19.

What I want to discuss is professional fatigue, which is not often recognised, we have all had to adjust and adapt our way of working and this can cause considerable fatigue.

  • New areas of work
    The exhaustion of moving to a new area outside your comfort zone, trying to rack our brains on how to work with a new client group, especially in a time of urgency of discharge and not necessarily in a way we would choose to work with our clients.
  • Technology
    The use of this technology can cause fatigue and we need to be mindful of its impact on us as professionals. The need to concentrate on a screen for long periods, not having access to a suitable chair or desk space, poor broadband, all impact our fatigue levels. Are we giving ourselves time to stand, walk and complete other tasks to improve our wellbeing? Or are we driven to not wanting to be seen as not achieving our expected workload?
  • Client relationships
    It is extremely tiring to try and develop a rapport over the telephone with new clients, which can impact the quality of a virtual assessment and can be exhausting.
  • Assessments
    So much of what we do is observation and not always overt, from the start of an assessment we are reviewing, analysing and seeing what our clients are doing, in virtual visits this information is not as available to us, making the assessment time tiring as we are straining to receive as much information as possible via a small screen.
  • Tolerance
    Our client’s tolerance to long virtual assessments is impacted and it is virtually impossible to have those light-hearted conversations that provide a natural interlude, enabling a visit to last longer. I have noticed that a virtual visit can only last an hour before we are all fatigued and need to bring it to a conclusion.
  • Reports
    Due to the above we often need more than one call, which then impacts the speed of work and can cause additional stress and fatigue.

We need to give ourselves a break, remember to practice what we preach, give yourself time do those activities you enjoy, whether that be gardening, knitting, painting, reading, baking or just sitting and contemplating life. Occupational balance is key to a healthy professional and if we are healthy we have more energy to work with and advocate for our clients.

Image by 1388843 from Pixabay 

Get your copy of The OT Magazine

Read more articles here