Today the clinic I work at reopened. Well, I guess before I go any further I should say this: This is not an opinion post about the COVID situation. This is simply a glimpse into what returning to in-person therapy has looked like in the midst of this pandemic and ways that may help you navigate the transition while still maintaining some sanity.
Let’s face it—we’re all Ross right now. Whether you’re working from home, working telehealth, working the front lines, not working—we’re all fine. But when we say “fine” we mean, “not really fine but we’re all going through the same crap so I’m just going to say ‘fine’ and move along with being everything but fine.”
Look, I’m not going to lie: I was panicked about heading back into the clinic. There are policies and procedures we now have to follow to ensure our kids and staff remain safe. There is the unknown of what my schedule is going to look like in this transition from telehealth to a hybrid model. On top of all of that, there’s this voice in the back of my head saying, “What if, what if, what if?” Like, “What if I’m one of the asymptomatic carriers and give it to one of my medically fragile kids or a coworker?” Or, “What if I miss something and somebody gets sick because of me?” Again, regardless of your opinions on this situation, you know these thoughts find their way into our brains every now and then. (Unless you were a spring breaker in Florida then it was very clear you didn’t have these thoughts). I know, I know—I said I wasn’t going to include opinions but that one was too easy.
All of that being said, I was also extremely excited to be back in clinic with my kids who would be returning. While telehealth wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, I missed being present with my kiddos and sharing the same space with them, playing alongside them, laughing with them.
Heading into this morning I was anxious but I tried my best to go about my morning as I would have any other work day. 5am workout, delicious coffee, podcast for the drive, etc. (More on that in a bit). As I pulled up to the center, I saw staff members in masks and gloves, screening patients and staff before entering the building and my stomach turned. It was a disruption to my normal and I didn’t like it. I wanted to be able to walk into the clinic and go about things as usual, but that’s not the way life is right now.
Instead, I reported to a staff member to get my temperature taken and answer some screening questions. I immediately washed my hands and grabbed a mask and a set of gloves. The mask remained around my ears for the entire day, intermittently pulling it down if I needed to model for a kiddo. being mindful of my distance.
Some sessions went beautifully and gains we saw in telehealth were seen in the speech room. Other sessions were rather tragic and resulted in “Miss Dani” closing the door and laying her head on a disinfectant scented desk. I found myself becoming frustrated with the day, blaming it on the disruption this pandemic caused. Then I quickly realized, aside from the masks and the cleaning procedures—and maybe an increase in worrisome thoughts— not much has changed.
Our days are still inconsistent with some being good and some being bad. Some days I feel like a rockstar SLP and other days I wonder if I learned anything in school or the past nearly four years being in this field (~two as an SLPA and just shy of two as an SLP, for those going, “huh?”). Please know, I’m not saying that to minimize what we’re going through as a society. I’m saying that as a reminder to meet ourselves with grace.
So, be it now, the next few weeks, or the next few months, you’re hopefully going to transition away from telehealth and back into in person therapy. Here are some ways to do that without totally going bonkers and losing your mind on day one:
- Get back to as close to your normal routine as possible, with maybe a little extra self-care thrown in. I crave routine, even though I’ll be the first to whine about it. I don’t do well with extra time and this “work from home” time really solidified that for me. I like having structure in my days and being able to return to that structure on day one back in the clinic was helpful. I have over an hour commute one way Monday through Wednesday and while I was dreading it, I quickly realized I missed it. I missed my podcast time, my quiet time, my “me” time. Being in my routine was a personal step towards normalcy. There are some tweaks here and there but for the most part, my day today looked the same as it did before the pandemic.
- Meet yourself, your coworkers, and your patients with grace. Gosh, this is hard. I have such a hard time meeting everyone with equal grace. If I’m being kind to myself, I’m being short-tempered with others and vice versa. It’s hard to give everyone—myself included—an equal amount of grace. Oh, but that’s what the world needs right now! Again, regardless of where you stand on this current event, it’s a disruption. We’re all thrown off. Right now we need to meet everyone with grace, because the majority of people are just trying to do their best during this time.
- Enjoy being back. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t get into therapy to do telehealth. I like being right there with my kids. I like being able to play alongside them and have a little more control of the situation (yes, I know I’m a control freak). I love therapy. That was my mantra today. I love being back. I enjoyed being back. Enjoy being back and with your littles that love you so very much.
- Follow the guidelines. This is easier for me to say as an Enneagram One. However, this has brought me some peace of mind. If I follow the guidelines put in place during my time in the clinic, I’ll know going home I did everything I could to keep myself and those around me as healthy as can be. Just follow the guidelines, dude. Are they a nuisance? Yup. Do I agree with all of them? Hard to say. Do I lose anything by doing them? I mean, my hands are dry as can be from washing them and I’m pretty sure the chemicals from the disinfectants we’re using can’t be good for my brain, but I lose nothing by just adhering to these guidelines.
- Be the happy one in the office. Guys, just smile. Ask people how they are. Lend a hand when you can. Be the chipper one that makes light of the weird feeling we’re all having right now. I can almost guarantee others will follow suit. Nobody likes the uncertainty we’re facing right now, so why not make your joy and positive disposition be one of the few constants we have during this time? If you have to wear a mask, smile so big under the mask your forehead vein looks like it’s about to pop. Oh, is that just me? Cool, never mind.
Look, these are weird times. Transitioning back into the clinic today made me anxious, almost as anxious as starting teletherapy. Transitions are hard, especially when we’re expecting normal and we’re met with “COVID normal”. Readjusting while maintaining a small sense of normalcy is the way we’re going to be able to best do our jobs during this time in our lives. Here’s the thing: Our patients need us to do our jobs. So breathe, pray, enjoy your coffee, and be bright. That’s all we can do right now.