Imagine moving through the birthing process expecting to be surrounded by loved ones but instead proceeding alone. Imagine testing positive for an infection you know holds the potential to harm your immunocompromised grandmother staying with you.
These are the unfortunate realities that face many people amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the ongoing spread of the disease that has led to an immense strain of the nation’s healthcare system, most individuals receiving medical treatment do not currently have the option to have family members, friends, or visitors present with them. While understandable, the current priority of the healthcare system is the medical needs of patients, I have found myself wondering what consequences this has on our ability to treat the whole individual, mentally, spiritually, psychologically, and physically: What does holistic care look like in the time of a pandemic?
So what is holistic care? Holistic care is about caring for the whole person and providing for a wide range of needs. This kind of practice is actually rooted in clinical work that demonstrates how all aspects of your health, mental, spiritual, and psychological balance out with your physical health and have the ability to impact one another.
Speaking with a close friend the other day who is seven months pregnant, she disclosed to me the fear of going through the birthing process alone when it comes time. Additionally, the emotional overload of carrying a pregnancy through this space and time has produced feelings of guilt, shame, and sadness that are unable to be addressed at this time. Holistic care for her looks like relying on spiritual guides such as her pastor to get her through difficulties in her pregnancy. However, he now remains distanced and unable to continue to support her spiritual and emotional needs as she continues her journey through pregnancy.
As referenced in Grace’s piece on informal care networks, pregnant women are facing the difficult decision of not being allowed to have loved ones remain with them in the hospital for the birthing process. Jordan beautifully spoke to her fears of being unaccompanied throughout a surgical process due to regulations. The conditions of this pandemic are dictating so much regarding the time and space in which we currently live and we can see the palpable ways in which this has affected individuals’ health practices.
Personally, I have struggled with my mental health throughout this time of isolation and fear. I’ve grappled with the shame and guilt I feel for returning home and endangering family members. I have let my anxiety take my mind places that house only the most pessimistic outcomes for my health. I feel as though countless doctors call to check on me asking if I cough, am running a fever, or feel pain but never ask is my mind racing, has my anxiety spiked, are you scared? Holistic care for me includes utilizing my loved ones’ support in the form of physical touch and affection as reassurance. I know this not a unique feeling, and many of my peers have also written about the lack of personal connection in isolation and how this can exacerbate loneliness, guilt, and anxiety. I really related to Laura’s piece on how the uncertainty of these times is feeding the cycle of anxiety for so many. I too share the feelings of guilt and hopelessness about protecting my family from myself. How can we work through these needs isolated in a room with none of the resources we typically employ to keep our minds at ease?
How can we intentionally focus a lens on the holistic needs of those infected, their loved ones, our healthcare workers, essential workers, vulnerable and marginalized populations? If we feel isolated and alone at home how can we imagine individuals isolated in medical settings fearful for their lives without holistic support might feel?
While I definitely do not have the answers to all these questions I do believe that it is during these times we must work to rely on and be there for others. Genuine communities of care where individuals take care for one another, be kind to others and kind to themselves, may offer the ability to meet the needs of all individuals. It is through some of the smallest acts of kindness that I have found the most relief in these past few weeks. Videos of support from family members and friends, signing my favorite songs or reading books I loved as a child, have been my substitute for physical affection at this time, critical in keeping my spirits high. I believe it is during these times that our ability to care for one another becomes that much more important.