In these unprecedented times, Angèle Lonchamp, a nurse on the front line, shares her experience with us, with the idea of helping young people cope with their stress, or answering their questions.
Can you quickly introduce yourself, in terms of your background, activity, professional practice…?
I am 39 years old, I am a general care nurse since 2008. I have worked in different departments: medicine, surgery (orthopedics, visceral, ambulatory…), emergency, day hospital (chemotherapy). I am currently doing some replacements in SSR (Care of Follow-up and Rehabilitation) and in private nurses’ offices.
How did you get the idea to become a nurse? Was it a choice, a vocation?
I always wanted to have a job related to others, to be able to help. I couldn’t see myself working in an office within four walls. After graduating from high school, I first went to medical school (one year) to become an occupational therapist, but it wasn’t for me. Then I studied English for three years to become a teacher, but again the university system did not suit me. I decided to take the nursing exam, which I passed, and that’s how I started this adventure.
What is your vision of medicine and health in general today?
In 12 years, I have noticed a deterioration of the medical system and of the relationship between caregiver and patient. Access to care is sometimes complicated for patients (delays in appointments and treatment), lack of equipment, lack of personnel (always doing more with less caregivers), patients are more and more demanding and more and more individualistic (lack of consideration of the personnel, of other patients). You have to know how to deal with the doctors, the management of the facilities and the patients. You find yourself in the middle, trying to meet the expectations of others as best you can.
How would you define the relationship between physical and mental health?
As they say: a healthy mind in a healthy body. It seems to me that taking care of one’s body, not only with physical activity, allows one to feel better in one’s head, to clear one’s mind, to find oneself. It can be by practicing a physical activity, going for a walk, getting a massage… You have to know how to listen to yourself in order not to forget yourself.
What advice would you give to a student who suffers from anxiety at the idea of ensuring pedagogical continuity (distance studies) in this period of confinement?
I would tell him/her that he/she is not alone in this case and that he/she should talk about what he/she is feeling, if only to one person. Sometimes this helps to defuse the pressure or anxiety that you feel building up inside. You have to get organized. I would also tell him that he knows the method of working, that he makes a schedule as if he were still in the classroom. You also have to allow yourself time to relax, because that’s essential to do a good job. And above all, to continue to have contacts with your entourage, even from a distance.
Do you have any other advice on how to live well in confinement, or more broadly, in the time of the coronavirus?
It’s the same as the previous answer, with the difference that you have to respect the hygiene measures, but without going too far. You must not cut yourself off from everything for fear of the virus, you must live differently for a time, the duration of which we unfortunately do not know.
What can you say about the emotional state of patients suffering from the coronavirus? How did they experience the disease, the distance from their loved ones… How do you reassure an isolated patient?
I did not have any patient with coronavirus. On the other hand, the patients found themselves confined like the rest of the population. Some have suffered from the lack of contact with their relatives. We can try to reassure them by being available for them in these difficult times and by setting up new means of communication such as Skype, WhatsApp…
What exactly is the role of nurses with patients? Medically and morally?
The role of the nurse is to be present and to listen to her patients. As in all relationships, it is the quality of the exchange that is essential. It is also necessary to be reassuring and to show empathy while remaining professional. Sometimes a gesture, a word, can be enough to reassure and calm. A relationship of trust must be established despite the differences. The nurse really establishes the link between the doctor and the patient. It is up to the nurse to detect problems that the patient and his or her family may be experiencing.
What was the emotional impact on your side? I’m thinking of the complicated schedules, the fatigue, the overload, the stress, maybe the empathy or the loss of a patient?
The period of confinement brings with it a mixture of emotions that is sometimes more difficult to manage. You have to be reassuring, even if you are also worried. I felt much more tired, with a greater mental load, and the worry of bringing the virus home, of not being able to protect your loved ones. I learned to trust myself even more too, I think especially of the precautions I took during this period. A WhatsApp group was created with the liberal nurses where we could share our feelings and fears. This allowed me to see that I was not the most stressed and that I was finally able to take the necessary distance from the situation. I think I was able to help some of my colleagues as well.
Do you have or would you have liked to have psychological support? For example to be able to debrief, or simply to feel supported?
I didn’t have psychological support from a professional but I had the necessary listening from my colleagues. I don’t happen to work in a region that has been badly affected. If it had been the case, the question would certainly have arisen. I am not a very anxious person. If the need arises, I think that one should not hesitate to meet a competent person in this field.
What do you think about the role of paramedical professions (and in particular psychologists) during this health crisis?
Paramedics have an essential role in this health crisis, medically and socially speaking. Even more so in difficult times, they are the link to the outside world. Psychologists are very important in the overall care of the patient and also help other caregivers to better cope with the confinement.
Have the conditions and guidelines for working in the home changed much? How do people receive you in their homes? Is there distrust, or on the contrary, are they happy to be able to talk to someone?
In the home, the way people are treated has changed as well. Wearing a mask was a problem because of the lack of equipment, but fortunately there was real help between nurses. Once again, it was the fear of doing things wrong that was sometimes difficult to manage, but as I said, you have to trust yourself. As for the patients, they were happy to see us, to be able to talk to someone, and here again our educational role was essential so that the barrier gestures become a reflex and that they can protect themselves.