Traveling nurse talks emotional, psychological stress of COVID-19

DETROIT – When Brenna Grotegut moved to Detroit a little more than a month ago, she knew the novel coronavirus had taken a toll on the city. What she didn't know was the toll it would take on her.

June 3, 2020 update: Michigan coronavirus (COVID-19) cases up to 58,035; Death toll now at 5,570

“I feel sometimes like I have no outlet out here, no decompression, no stress relief,” she said.

Grotegut is a traveling registered nurse. She moved to Detroit from La Crosse, Wisconsin where cases were relatively low. Now, she works in the Long-Term Acute Care unit where nearly all her patients are recovering from COVID-19 or need ventilation. The stress is overwhelming and normally nurses can band together, but in the middle of a pandemic, Grotegut said it is hard to do.

“I used to work nights and we'd go out to breakfast and we talk about what happened the night before. Now we're not even supposed to be two nurses to a breakroom at a time. The shift is over, and you go home” she said.

It's not just traveling nurses who feel the toll of isolation and exhaustion. Healthcare groups have been flooding frontline workers with outlets and tools to deal with the trauma of the pandemic. The Michigan chapter of the American Nursing Association has 7 pages devoted to managing stress including a distraction guide with 74 different suggestions to relieve anxiety on its website. The group has also hosted several seminars on how healthcare workers can manage stress and anxiety.

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“My mental health has definitely suffered. You can tell,” Grotegut said.

Distraction, however, is hard to come by in a job that often requires intense focus and precision. Healthcare workers often work long days full of ups and downs.

“To explain the emotions, I explain one minute we're in a code trying to save someone's life. The next they're playing a song overhead because we're discharging somebody who is going home after surviving COVID the emotions that you feel in a day, highs lows and everything in between

Grotegut said just because the job is emotionally and psychologically difficult doesn't mean it's not rewarding or important but added she's uncertain how she'll be when the virus is over and it's time to move on.

“I have a feeling when I am leaving Michigan there’s probably going to be a flood of emotions as I head home,” She said.

Anyone in need of mental health help can call the State’s warmline, seven days a week, 888-733-7753.

Anyone who believes they might have coronavirus should follow the CDC guidelines. Michigan.gov has a list of resources available to those concerned about COVID-19.

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