After the last COVID-19 patient has been discharged and the intensive care unit beds are empty, the world will declare the crisis over. Politicians and pundits will begin to talk about mistakes made and try to lay blame. They will finger point and bluster about why it got as bad as it did and declare it wasn’t their fault.

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Store shelves will be full of products again. There won’t be a run on toilet paper or hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes. People will have parties and weddings. They will have celebrations just because they can. Many businesses that were forced to close will reopen, many people will have jobs to go back to, and nearly everyone will breathe a sigh of relief that it is over.

Family members will gather to mourn their dead, to hold each other and cry, to process the guilt of not being with their loved ones as they died.

Doctors and nurses will start to process their own trauma. The trauma of watching patients die alone, of their decisions about who got the respirator and who didn’t, and of knowing their colleagues died from this virus due to lack of protective equipment. The trauma of holding the phone for a patient and witnessing the last goodbye before that patient is put on a respirator.

Those who survived this virus will wonder if they passed it to anyone else before they even knew they were contagious. Some will know they passed it on, and they will wonder if any of those people died.

Things will eventually get back to the way they were before this virus took over our lives in ways we never could have imagined and barely comprehended

People will enter my therapy office trying to find a way to fit this unprecedented event into their life story. There will be guilt and regret and pain and fear. And grief. So much grief. The trauma will continue for months and years to come because trauma is a time bomb with no visible timer.

The trauma of this pandemic does not end when the acute crisis is over. That is when it truly begins. That is why I am the last responder.

As I listen to the ever-increasing number of infected and dead, I know my work hasn’t even begun. I will celebrate when the intensive care unit beds are empty and when we can hug each other again.

Life will start to return to normal, but things won’t feel quite the same.

I’ll take a deep breath. And then another.

And then, I’ll get to work.

File under: The Art of Psychotherapy, COVID-19 Blogs