Looking after #1: The healthcare worker’s guide to surviving winter.

If you’re in healthcare, this is probably your worst winter ever. Between the COVIDs, scarce resources, shutdowns, homeschooling, bureaucracy, hoaxers, and checking the in-laws’ rashes online, you must feel cooked.

You’re frustrated. Your patients die calling COVID a hoax. People refuse to wear masks. So many loved parents die alone. Bureaucrats don’t prioritize people’s lives. Even some of our own sold their soul for fame or money.

You’re tired of being strong. You care for others’ families, while your own must fend for themselves. You’re tired of fighting COVID, ignorance, administrators, even your relatives over the Thanksgiving virtual table. You’re tired of the mask burning your face, filthy gloves, people shrinking when you hug them. You’re tired of being treated like a pariah whenever you stop to get coffee at the gas station. You’re tired of your scrubs shrinking since the gym’s closed and you live on junk food.

You miss your parents. But they’re old, frail, and COVID-prone, so you avoid them. So much so that Dad asked if that new Ancestry test taught you something he should know about, and Mom apologized for mentioning your ex that last time you visited.

You love your kids. You’d die a thousand deaths for them, but homeschooling? Oregon Trail and core math? Having them home every hour of every day? They don’t know you need to sleep after your nightshift.  And you just can’t watch Frozen three times a day.

Your spouse?  Things weren’t that bad when you both worked and the kids went to school. Family time was sacred but limited. Now, you struggle to bite your tongue and stick those fists in your pockets. No more date nights to rekindle a flailing relationship, no more vacations to break the monotony, no more nights out with your buddies to blow up steam.

How can you survive this winter holding on to your temper, family, and job?

Look out for #1.

That’s you. To care for others, you must care for yourself first.  Like the in-flight safety videos say: “Put on your own mask before you help others.” You won’t save anyone if you run out of oxygen. To care for those who need you, you must keep afloat. You’re everybody’s keeper. If you get sick, they might too. If you go crazy, your family will suffer. If you fall apart, who’ll care for your elderly parents?

That’s not selfish. That’s smart. To protect those who need you, you must stay healthy and sane.

How? These are my tips.

  1. Set rules for others and for yourself. Your sleep should be sacred. So should whatever time off you can schedule.
  2. Enlist help. There are so many grateful folks who want to help the healthcare workers. Your neighbors may be glad to walk your dog, run some errands, or grab a gallon of milk.
  3. Prioritize yourself. Pay someone to plow, buy groceries online, hire a housekeeper to save time for the things that really matter.
  4. Schedule time for yourself. To exercise, meditate, pray, journal –  whatever helps fill your well.
  5. Shut off the TV. Whether you’re Democrat or Republican, you won’t enjoy the news. Watch Hallmark, the nature channel, or the food channel. Watching food is fun, and it won’t make you fat.
  6. Go outdoors. There’s magic in nature and sunlight, whatever’s left of it. Hike, snowshoe, and allow your lungs to breathe real air instead of the reconditioned germs they allow you in the hospital.
  7. Say no. That’s a survival technique. Say no to parties, to hugging strangers, to doing things you shouldn’t, in order to protect other’s feelings. Let them take care of their feelings. You take care of yourself.
  8. Cut yourself some slack. You aren’t perfect. Nobody is. You’ll make mistakes, gain a few pounds, step on some toes, maybe even lose it at times. So what? Just do the best you can.
  9. Read a book. Remember those things made of paper? You turn a page and land in a new world? These three always make me happy: The art of Racing in the Rain, Holes, and Because of Winn Dixie. What works for you? Please share.
  10. Be careful with alcohol and substance use. They may feel good at the moment, but you’ll be worse off in the long run.
  11. Watch old movies that make you laugh. My favorites: A fish called Wanda, Hopscotch, and Naked Gun. And MASH. It’s on HULU. How about you?
  12. Take a break from social media. Picking fights with random strangers won’t help your mental health. Sadly, not everyone posts sunrises and puppies. Cut off those who hurt you.
  13. Get a cat. They have nine lives; That’s why they are masters of survival. They ignore all unpleasantness, from dogs to COVID, and they’ll show you how to do it too. And they’re the best nap helpers.
  14. Communicate. Ask your coworkers how they handle the stress. They may teach you something, but even if they don’t, sharing the burden will help you both.
  15. Seek help before you lose it. Check out the CDC resources below.
  16. Pat yourself on the back. You’re a darn hero! In recycled PPE instead of shining armor you saved fair maidens of all genders, ages, and persuasions. With a vaccine in sight, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Wishing you all health, joy, and happiness. See you all on the other side.


Rada Jones is an ER doc. She lives in Upstate NY with her husband Steve, Paxil, his deaf cat, and a tsunami named Guinness who loves brushing her teeth.

Rada authored three ER thrillers, Overdose, Mercy and Poison, and “Stay Away From My ER,” a collection of medical essays

Free confidential resources: 


3 thoughts on “Looking after #1: The healthcare worker’s guide to surviving winter.

  1. I love reading this, thank you for some wise tips and compassion. I’m from New Zealand, seeing what you are all going thru breaks my heart. You are all hero’s working in such an adverse climate, my prayers are that soon your country will get some traction in applying sane, rational and safe protocols to manage this pandemic.
    Sending love and hugs to everyone if my colleagues affected so terribly by this very real pandemic. And thank you Rada for these uplifting, kind and empathetic posts ♥️💕

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